Members of the Hillsboro Indians baseball team celebrate after their 4-3 regional semifinal victory over St. Clairsville, Friday at Teays Valley. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Members of the Hillsboro Indians baseball team celebrate after their 4-3 regional semifinal victory over St. Clairsville, Friday at Teays Valley. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)

ASHVILLE – When something is meant to be, well, it is just meant to be. That could be the case for the Hillsboro Indians following a wild walk-off Division II Regional Semifinal win on Friday night against the St. Clairsville Red Devils at Teays Valley, as the Indians were down to their final out, trailing by one run with two runners on the bases.

The rest, you can say, was history in the making.

Hillsboro had senior Nick Lewis at the plate with two outs, as Hunter Green (pinch running for Coltin Hunter) stood on third base, and Brayden Kisling was on second base. Lewis watched the first pitch of the at-bat sail past him for a ball.

The next pitch, however, brought a variety of emotions from all in attendance, as the swing of the bat by Lewis sent a fly ball to right field, for what looked to be the final out of the game and season for the Indians … but it wasn’t.

Lewis continued to race to first base and was safe, as the ball bounced away from the St. Clairsville outfielder, allowing both Green and Kisling to round the bases and cross home plate for the 4-3 win, advancing Hillsboro to the Division II Regional Finals for the first time in program history.  

The appearance by Hillsboro in the regional semifinals was a first since 1993, and Hillsboro’s victory over the Red Devils was the 13th consecutive win of the season as the Indians improved to 24-6 overall. The loss by St. Clairsville leaves them at 20-8 overall.

“They seem to find a way to make it happen. This was actually the first game of the tournament we’ve been down. Every other game, we’ve been the away team, and we’ve jumped out to an early lead and kind of ran the other team out of outs,” HHS head coach Matt Garman said. “They (St. Clairsville) jumped out and punched us right in the mouth, up 3-0 right off the jump. They were hitting it hard in that first inning.

“Tanner (Warner) does what he does, and he just locked in. This is another game where he didn’t have his A-plus stuff, but he knows how to get outs, how to get out of jams, and man, he got out of some tough jams.”

In the win, the Indians totaled five hits and committed four errors, while St. Clairsville (the East 2 District champions) totaled four hits and committed two errors.

“Defensively, it wasn’t our best game, but we did just enough to hold them down, and we just kept grinding offensively and believing that if we put the ball in play, things would happen,” Garman said. “Sure enough, we waited till the last possible second, but Coltin got us a nice single. Brayden Kisling, who struggled all day, comes up and hits a missile right up the middle.

“Everybody’s locked in, and what can I say? These guys are just gritty. They’re tough. Man, they refuse to quit, no matter what the situation is. I can’t be more proud of these guys and just how tough they are. It’s unbelievable.”

All five of Hillsboro’s hits came from the 5-8 hitters in the order, with Quintin Captain, Kisling and Korbin Adams (two RBI) all having one hit each. Hunter led the way with a 2-for-3 day at the plate, scoring one run. Hunter and Captain both had a stolen base to add to their day.

The game didn’t start off in favor for the Indians – the home team on the scoreboard – as they trailed by a 3-0 score after the top of the first inning was completed.

Though the Indians recorded the first out against the lead-off batter, next Braylen Blomquist singled, followed by Tyler Tonkovich reaching on an error. Then came a double by Will Balgo, scoring both runners with one out for a 2-0 lead.

The Red Devils’ lead increased to three runs as a single by Luke Jozwiak scored Tonkovich for a three-run lead.

Hillsboro waited until the bottom of the second inning to get their bats going, beginning with Captain hitting a single to left field on the second pitch of the at-bat. Hunter followed with a single to right field, moving Captain to third base.

Following the second out of the inning, Adams smashed a line drive to left field for two RBI, with Captain and Kisling both scoring runs.

That concluded the scoring until the aforementioned seventh-inning rally by the Tribe, but that didn’t mean the game didn’t have tense and nail-biting moments, because there was plenty of that to come.

Hillsboro’s defense had one of their finer moments in the top of the third as they ended the inning with a 5-4-3 double play. In the fourth, with Tanner Warner on the mound for the Indians, the Red Devils began the inning with a single, then stole second.

None of that mattered to the Indians, as Warner forced a fly ball to centerfield for the first out of the inning. Next, the runner raced to third base on a ground out. Having two outs to their advantage, but a runner at third to their disadvantage, Warner and catcher Spencer Wyckoff took it in their own hands to end the inning.

Even with the count going 3-0, Warner rallied with three straight strikes, as Wyckoff caught the called third strike to end the inning with Warner leaving the St. Clairsville runner stranded at third.

Warner did not allow a hit in the top of the fifth, but there was a base runner after he was hit by a pitch. In between that, the Indians gained outs with a pop up on a bunt to third base, then another pop up to third base, followed by the inning ending with a fly ball out to right field.

The most stressful inning for the Indians since the top of the first arrived in the sixth inning when the Red Devils loaded the bases with just one out off a walk, error and infield single. Warner continued to battle as he struck out the next two batters with the bases loaded, including the first of those two strikeouts coming on a full count. The second strikeout on the called third strike to end the inning came via an off-speed pitch.

“Up until now, I just felt like we have been outplaying teams, but I mean, they played a heck of a baseball game, and that’s a heck of a baseball team,” Garman said. “When you get to the regional tournament, of course, everybody’s good. I really do feel like this was two good teams battling, and we just happened to be the fortunate team to be up last and made one more play than they did. I couldn’t be more blessed, and our guys fought hard for it.”

St. Clairsville had the second batter of the inning reach first base in the top of the seventh on a four-pitch walk. That ended the day for Warner and brought in Ryan Scott, who ended the inning by forcing a ground out to second base, then striking out the ensuing batter on a called third strike.

Then came the wild and emotional two-hit, two-run bottom of the seventh inning that sent them to the regional finals for the first time in program history. The inning began with a Hillsboro strikeout and was followed with Hunter hitting a single past the second baseman. Green came in to pinch run, and he reached second base on a single up the middle by Kisling.

After a groundout by Adams moved over both runners, the error in the outfield by St. Clairsville off a ball hit by Lewis scored both runners for the one-run win.

“That’s been our M.O. over the last three or four weeks of the season. You never knew who it’s going to be, but some guy has been stepping up. Tonight it was Q, tonight it was Kisling, tonight it was Coltin. It’s been Ryan, it’s been Tanner, it’s been Korbin Adams tonight with two RBI in that second inning to kind of snap us back into it,” Garman said of players stepping up in the moment. “It’s everybody. I can’t say enough about every single guy on this team and how they just refuse to let what has happened (affect) what’s going to happen. They just go out there, put their nose down and make the next play.”

Scott was the winning pitcher as he pitched 0.2 innings in relief, throwing a total of eight pitches. He allowed no runs on no hits or walks, striking out one.

Warner pitched 6.1 innings in the start for the no decision. He allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks. Warner struck out four batters and hit two.

“Quick turnaround, we play again tomorrow. We’re here at 3 o’clock. It’s another game where we don’t know a whole lot about our opponent. We know they’re good. We’re going to have Ryan Scott up on the mound, and we know that if we make plays behind him and can score him a few runs, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Garman said.

In their previous postseason games, the Indians have defeated Marietta (6-0), Jackson (1-0), Sheridan (2-0) and Unioto (6-5 in eight innings).

Bloom-Carroll this postseason has defeated Cols. Centennial (13-3), Cols. Bishop Watterson (10-0), Cols. St. Francis DeSales (4-3) and Cambridge (3-2). 

Note: On Saturday, June 5, the Indians' season came to an end with a 9-0 loss to the Bloom-Carroll Bulldogs in the Division II regional final. Seniors playing their final game were: Ryan Scott, Nick Lewis, Jeremy Kemper, Tanner Warner, Brayden Kisling, Coltin Hunter, Zach Humphries, Cullen Barney, Brad Miller and Hunter Green.