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Beechwood holds on for 4th straight regional baseball title over a Highlands team that won’t quit

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

For the first time all week, we heard the magic word: “Four-peat.”

But only after Beechwood’s Tigers had won their fourth straight regional baseball championship Wednesday.

That discipline is how they do it in Fort Mitchell. Sure, they could have talked earlier about what it would be like to win four straight titles, which of course is probably the easiest way not to do it.

They are the champions — Beechwood’s Tigers for the fourth straight year. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

So they didn’t . . . until they did.

Which was only after a 6-5 thriller over a Highlands team whose previous “four-peat” ended when Beechwood’s began.

That’s kind of how it works. Even as unpredictable as one-and-out tournament baseball can be, the most solid, hardest-working programs tend to get to the top and stay there.

“Crazy . . . crazy . . . crazy,” Beechwood Coach Kevin Gray said, with a trace of a tear or two in his eyes matched by those of Highlands’ Coach Jeremy Baioni in the other dugout.

But here’s one small explanation. By our count, when they announced each team and coaching staff before the game, there were eight Highlands coaches down the first base line, 10 Beechwood coaches down the third base line.

This is serious stuff in these two places named for forts. No one works harder, both coaches said. Funny how that pays off.

“The four-peat here, it’s never been done here before,” said Beechwood’s Cameron Boyd, shaking his head at the thought after hitting an inside-the-park home run, his 12th of the season, breaking a three-way tie and moving him to No. 1 in the state.

But Beechwood had so many players come through in the three regional games that four other Tigers were named to the All-Tournament team led by MVP Landon Johnson, who spent Game 1 and the first six innings of Game 2 on the bench.

“We wouldn’t be here without him,” Gray said, although he was still amazed that they did so even “when you lose two all-staters” — Mitchell Berger and Bryce Estep – “losing players of that quality.”

Beechwood closer Torin O’Shea(Photo by Dale Dawn)

“Here” is having eight days to get ready for the state tournament next Thursday with an opening game against Region 3 winner Apollo at Lexington’s Counter Clocks Field at 5 p.m.. “We’re not going down there to be a steppingstone,” Gray said.

But that’s for next week. Right now was for celebrating. And chanting “Four-peat, four-peat.”

“I’ve never been prouder of a team,” Gray said, “no one gave us a chance.”

OK, that part may be a bit of an exaggeration as the Tigers were the preseason pick of the Ninth Region baseball coaches.

And yeah, Kevin did call it crazy talk then when he saw it.

But it shows the respect this program has even if the four championship Tiger teams “were all different teams,” Gray said, which makes it about the program, not just the players.

Although the senior Johnson is a good example of how much players matter. If someone would have told him after the fifth inning of the semifinal game against Dixie Heights when he was still on the bench before his game-tying two-run pinch-hit double, that he’d be the Regional Tournament MVP, “I’d have told them they were crazy,” Landon said.

Gray reacted the same way. “I’d have said they’re crazy.”

Highlands’ Adam Surrey gets a forearm from Beechwood pitcher Matt Kappes as he crosses home for a score. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Only they weren’t. The championship game may have been, however.

There was the Beechwood lead, 6-1, after 3 ½ innings, that held up despite a furious Highlands’ four-run response through innings four through six.

“Credit Beechwood,” Baioni said, “they made plays. We just needed one more.”

But when they needed that one play, like on the squeeze where Beechwood relief pitcher Matt Kappes shoveled the bunt to catcher Carson Welch for a bang-bang tag play at the plate that could only be called for certain with replay. “Out,” the umpire finally signaled on a run that might have changed everything.

Or there was the two-out, two-on, short fly ball in the sixth inning hit to center by Drew Barth that had Beechwood eighth-grader Tyler Fryman racing in and then – to the consternation of his teammates and coaches – launching himself at the dying baseball.

“Absolutely the play of the game,” Gray said. If the ball hits, how far does it roll with the baserunners flying toward home?

But it didn’t. Because grade-schooler Fryman reached it on the dive before it hit the ground.

“I honestly didn’t think he was going to make it,” Gray said. But he did.

One analysis of the difference in the game, Baioni said of his Birds team is that “everybody tried to be perfect . . . and you can’t be. We needed an early zero.”

What Highlands got the first two innings was a scorebook showing Beechwood the beneficiary of four bases on balls, three wild pitches, two hit-by-pitches, two Highlands’ pitchers and four runs.

That’s a tough way to go in a regional finals. Each team had planned to go with multiple pitchers and that was surely the right call.

Beechwood (27-8) just had a bit more with closer Torin O’Shea coming on for his third save of the season.

The cool part of this game was how the only multiple-hit players were Beechwood’s No. 9 hitter, Matt Cottongim, and Highlands No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Ryan DeBurgher and Brennan Kelsay.

Which is what made it so tough for the losing team.

“I’m just disappointed for them,” Baioni said of his fight-to-the-end Bluebirds, who finished 21-15. “They did it all year. I like where we are as a program.”

Gray liked looking up in the Thomas More Stadium stands and seeing “2,000 people, probably” cheering like crazy to the final swing.

*** ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Chris Young, Covington Catholic; Ian Mann, Newport Central Catholic; Caleb Mann, Ryle; Carson Shea, St. Henry; Brody Mangold, Conner; Oliver Kerns, Conner; Ethan Bosley, Dixie Heights; Brach Rice, Dixie Heights; Zach DeSilva, Highlands; Jack Hendrix, Highlands; Brennan Kelsay, Highlands; Tyler Fryman, Beechwood; Matt Kappes, Beechwood; Ben Meier, Beechwood; and MVP, Landon Johnson, Beechwood.


BEECHWOOD 1 3 1 1 0 0 0 — 6-6-1

HIGHLANDS 1 0 0 3 0 0 1 — 5-8-0

WP: Kappes (8-2), LP: Weber (1-4)

Beechwood’s winning Tigers dog pile their celebration (Photo by Dale Dawn)

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