Coming into the 11th Region baseball tournament, one might have thought Woodford County had earned a double-bye to the championship game.
Few gave Lexington Christian, which fell to Woodford on Monday, much of a shot against the Yellow Jackets’ left-handed ace, Jack Ockerman. It was assumed that either of Woodford’s potential semifinals opponents, Model or Sayre, would bow to the 41st District winner.
Well, you know what they say about assumptions.
Sayre knocked out Woodford County 7-3 to advance to the 11th Region finals for the first time in program history. The Spartans came out swinging and never trailed against the Jackets, who entered on a seven-game win streak and had won 16 of their previous 18 contests.
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“It’s huge because we did something that no one at Sayre’s ever done,” junior pitcher Cameron Stiglich said. “Everyone was thinking, ‘Oh, they’ll get beat,’ and ‘Oh, they got an easy draw,’ or whatever, but we came out and we’re an upset. We just keep doing it. We just keep fighting and we’re not stopping.”
Tuesday’s decision at Madison Southern was a far cry from Sayre’s 12-2 defeat at home to Woodford County 28 days before. A pair of homers in the second inning by William Lain and Sam Seahorn put Sayre up 5-0 and knocked Jackets starter Parker Thomas out of the game after 1 1/3 innings.
Weather disrupted the Spartans’ strong start. A lightning delay went into effect at 6:17 p.m. and the tarp was moved onto the field to stave off rain that briefly moved into the area. The contest was delayed for about an hour.
Josh Morgan drilled a two-run double into center field prior to the delay, prompting Woodford to bring in its fourth pitcher of the game, Caleb McNeely. The junior was strong, striking out four of the first five batters he faced and allowing just two Spartans to reach in the final 3 1/3 innings (another Sayre player got on via an error).
Stiglich threw four near-perfect innings on the mound, allowing just one hit in 10 batters faced, prior to the delay. He came back and retired the side in the fourth before yielding the first two Woodford runs in the fifth.
Stiglich got a flyout in the sixth after giving up an RBI single. James Dupree, Sayre’s planned starter for the finals, recorded the next four outs for the Spartans before hitting the maximum pitches allowed (25) for him to still be available Wednesday. Marshall Nielsen threw two pitches before a grounder to third baseman Garrett Young went to first baseman Sam Van Balen for the final out.
It was fitting that Sayre’s first semifinals win came against Woodford County. The Spartans entered the game 20 years and two days removed from their first-ever 11th Region victory, a 5-4 win over Woodford County in Versailles.
“Nobody thinks we deserve to be here,” Sayre Coach Kevin Clary said. “The schedule we played, and the character they’ve displayed, and the integrity they’ve displayed, and the way they show up to work every day, it’s inspiring to me.”
The celebration will be short-lived; Sayre will face off against either Lafayette or Scott County in the finals on Wednesday. The Spartans have lost five straight to Scott County — including three games this season. It upset Lafayette, then-ranked No. 1 in the state, in the opening round of the 2015 11th Region tournament but lost its next-most recent meeting with the Generals 8-3 early this year.
Sayre will be considered an underdog against either.
“We understand that and embrace that,” Clary said. “It’s all about getting the respect that we want our program to have. To gain that respect, you’ve got to win big games.”
Woodford County 3
Stiglich, Dupree (6), Nielsen (7) and Hojnacki; Thomas, Sutherland (2), Murray (3), McNeely (4) and Lavins. W—Stiglich. L—Thomas. 2B—S: Morgan, Stayton, Young. HR—S: Lain, Seahorn.
Records: Sayre 15-21, Woodford County 25-11.
11th Region championship
Who: Sayre (15-21) vs. Lafayette-Scott Co. winner
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Madison Southern