PDT Sports Writer
CHILLICOTHE —West cleared a hurdle that was eluding them for 18 years Saturday.
For the first time since 1995, the No. 4 Senators are district champions after they defeated No. 3 Rock Hill 7-1 in a Division III Southeast District Championship played at VA Memorial Stadium.
“That’s sweet because in two of the last five years, we’ve been the bridesmaid,” West coach Chris Rapp said. “It feels very sweet. We lost a few games but they were able to bounce back, play baseball and show the true team, we’re a good baseball team.”
The Senators started the scoring with a four-run second with four hits and a walk off Redmen starter Levi Wilds. West was able to knock Wilds from the mound in the next inning.
The run support was more than enough for Senators starter Brady Knittel, who went the distance and allowed just one run while recording eight strikeouts and four walks. The lone Rock Hill run came in the fourth thanks to a Jonathan Joseph double to score Jack Goodwin.
Rapp said after Thursday’s 4-2 win over No. 1 Piketon that any decision on whether to go with Knittel or Trevar Welch for the title game would be decided during Friday’s practice. He said it was a gut feeling to go with Knittel but had Welch warming up in the latter innings just in case something were to happen.
Knittel ran into some trouble in the sixth when he allowed the first two batters of the frame to reach base. After a conference with Rapp on the hill, Knittel was able to sit down Joseph, Evan Morris and Aaron Dalton in order and all via the strikeout to end the trouble.
“I just told him this has got to be your batter, you’ve got to step it up right now and just focus on you and the batter,” Rapp said. “…Brady’s a gamer and right then, he stepped it up.”
Insurance runs for West came in its half of the sixth, highlighted by a two-run triple by Austin Howard, who was then replaced by Patrick Bays as a baserunner.
“Now Austin is going to have to rest (Sunday) because did he use everything,” Rapp said. “He’s going to be sore (Sunday) and he’s going to have to ice himself down. But Austin has stepped up, Thursday he stepped up for us and made a key hit and today, that was a back breaker when he hit that.”
Travis Smith struck out next but a dropped third strike by Redmen catcher Austin Kidd forced him to throw down to first to complete the out and allow Bays to score from third.
“I told him if that catcher’s not looking, you go and he broke at the right time,” Rapp said. “He did was he was supposed to do. It’s good to see a freshman come in and do that.”
One thing that Rapp wishes his team can do is put consecutive-scoring innings together instead of bunches at different points of a game.
“We need to be clicking on all cylinders,” Rapp said.
A trip to the Division III Regional Tournament now awaits West. The Senators will take on defending state champion and SOC II foe Wheelersburg in a 2 p.m. contest Thursday at the VA.
“That Wheelersburg-West rivalry, it’s a great rivalry,” Rapp said. “What more do you need to say? I think at this point, let’s throw out the scores because both teams are playing good ball to get here.”
The winner will face the winner of the West Lafayette Ridgewood-Oak Hill game, which will take place afterwards, in Friday’s championship. The SOC II will have four teams in the Regionals altogether as Waverly plays Millersburg West Holmes Thursday in a Division II Regional Semifinal at Zanesville’s Gant Memorial Stadium.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.
Rock Hill 000 100 0 — 1 3 2
West 040 003 x — 7 6 1
Rock Hill — Delawder 1-3, Goodwin 0-1 (2 BB, R), Joseph 1-3 (2B, RBI), Morris 0-2 (BB), Hairston 1-3, Kidd 0-2 (SAC), Noel 0-2 (BB).
West — Book 1-3 (BB, SB, RBI), Galloway 0-2 (B), Reynolds 1-2 (BB), Welch 1-2 (BB, SB, 2 R), Howard 1-2 (3B, BB, 2 RBI, R), Smith 1-3 (RBI, R), Scott 1-3 (R).
W — Knittel (6-1) CG, 1 R, 3 H, 8 K, 4 BB
L — Wilds (2-2) 3 IP, 4 R (4 ER), 5 H, 1 K, 1 BB
Records — Rock Hill 13-7; West 14-9.