District champions: Warren whips Washington Court House, 11-3

ATHENS – The Warren Warriors could not have picked a better time to play their best baseball of the 2013 season.

With an 11-3 victory over Washington Court House at Bob Wren Field in Athens Wednesday, the royal blue and white claimed a Division II Southeast District title.

The win comes a day after Warren beat state-ranked Miami Trace by an identical 11-3 score to clinch its spot in the district final contest.

Needless to say, the Mark Farr-coached club is clicking on all cylinders offensively.

“We’ve got a little system going I think,” Farr said after the game. “Everybody’s falling in to what they need to do. We’re getting good pitches to hit and we’re squaring them up.”

At the top of the Warriors’ lineup, Lance Schafer collected a team-high three hits and also drove in a run, scored a pair of runs and stole a pair of bases.

“At the beginning of the year I wasn’t hitting the ball very good,” Schafer said. “We’ve been practicing hard every day, hitting off the tees, doing the fundamentals, doing my job.

“Everybody has a job they have to do, and if you do your job, good things will happen.”

Ethan Estes, Gunnar Smith and Zach McKenna all had two base knocks for Warren. Estes scored three runs and Gunnar drove in three, each team-highs.

Left-hander Justin Hill started on the mound and pitched six strong innings for the Warriors. Hill punched out five, walked three and was able to escape most of the trouble he got into, including a monstrous triple play in the top of the fifth inning.

Trailing 7-2, Washington loaded the bases with nobody out and five-hole hitter Ryan Duncan coming to the plate. Duncan lined to third baseman Garrett Kennedy, who made the catch but the ball came loose when he turned to tag third. The third base umpire ruled the catch was made for the first out. Kennedy picked the ball up and tagged third, doubling off Trevor Bain who had broke for home. Kennedy then threw home, not realizing that Bain was already out. Derek Shaw, the runner at second, thought he was out when Kennedy touched third base, thinking the catch was not made, so he went to the dugout which conceded the third out and gave the Warriors the rarest of triple plays.

“That was big,” Hill said. “Garrett Kennedy has come through all year for us at third base. It was great.”

After a lengthy discussion between umpires, the call was confirmed. It was a big momentum swing for both teams.

“Huge play,” Farr said. “Right call.

“It’s a bad spot for everybody to be in right there. I feel for Washington Court House. Hard hit ball, but that is the right call.”

Warren then tacked on four more runs in the bottom of the sixth to make it an 11-2 game.

Schafer led off the frame with an infield single to the shortstop. After he stole second, Estes knocked a base hit to left to bring him in. Later in the inning, with Estes at third and pinch runner Jacob Powell at second, Gunnar Smith crushed a two-run double to left center to bring both runners across. Smith would later score on a fielding error on a ball hit by McKenna.

The Lions got one run back in the seventh, but Kennedy came on in relief to close the game out and send the Warriors to the regional tourney next week in Zanesville.

“This team, at the beginning of the year, I said would have great chemistry, and sometimes that’s all you need,” Farr said. “You play hard, work for each other and good things happen. I’m so happy for these kids.”

Warren struck first in the opening inning. Schafer punched a ball through the left side on the first pitch from starter Travis Leisure for a leadoff single. Schafer was out at second on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Estes, but a slow bouncer to first by Kennedy moved Estes into scoring position with two outs for cleanup hitter Smith.

The right-handed hitting catcher capitalized with a bouncer into left that plated Estes for the game’s first run.

After Washington responded with a pair of runs in the top of second, Warren immediately retook the lead with a three-spot in its half of the frame.

McKenna led off the inning by bouncing a single over the third baseman. Blake Kidder followed with a single to right. After both runners advanced on a passed ball, Riley Bobo flied out to right field, but not deep enough to bring in the run. It wouldn’t matter, though, as McKenna would score on another passed ball to tie the game.

After Hill drew a base on balls, Schafer grounded to second, but an error allowed him to reach safely and Kidder to cross the plate and give Warren the lead for good. A Kennedy single to center brought in Hill to round out the scoring in the inning.

The Warriors would tack on a run in the third and two more in the fourth to make it 7-2.

Hill earned the mound victory while Leisure, who lasted just two innings, was tagged with the loss.

“Justin Hill, great, great job,” Farr said. “He threw strikes like he was supposed to. He battled there, kept (the Lions) off balance. I can’t say enough about our pitching.”

“The curveball helped me out a lot,” Hill said. “The fastball didn’t have a lot of movement in the first few innings but after I got through that second the fastball started getting movement on it and I was able to keep it down and they got a lot of groundballs and stuff.”

The Warriors are now 15-9 this season and will play the winner of Dover and Harrison Central next Thursday at 2 p.m. at Gant Municipal Stadium.

“We got hot halfway through the season,” Hill said of the Warriors’ improbable run. “Once we beat Gallia we just turned it on from there, and that’s all she wrote basically. We’re district champs and it feels great.”