SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Playing at a new regional site, the Eastern High School baseball team traveled almost three hours on Thursday to play a game that lasted an hour and 35 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, their semifinal result was the same as the previous eight.
That’s because Eastern — for the ninth time in nine tries —fell in the Division IV regional semifinals, as the Eagles lost 2-1 to Sidney Lehman Catholic inside sparkling Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.
The Eagles almost ended that “Sweet 16” jinx, scoring their only run on the game’s only third at-bat — before the Cavaliers captured the lead with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fifth inning.
In fact, as both teams tallied seven hits and didn’t commit a single error, three of Eastern’s came consecutive in the opening inning — while the Cavaliers’ only multiple-hit inning off Eagle ace pitcher Cameron Richmond came in the fifth.
As a result, Eastern ended its season at 17-10, snapping a three-game win streak in the process.
The Eagles were making their ninth regional appearance overall, including their sixth under 16-year head coach Brian Bowen.
Bowen had previously guided the Green and White to the regional semis in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2011 — all in the Lancaster regional before being shipped to Springfield for this year’s tilts.
In fact, the Eagles’ slimmest of defeats was a 3-1 loss to Fisher Catholic 10 tournaments ago.
On Thursday, it appeared a new site was perhaps changing the Eagles’ luck — as the senior Richmond pitched an absolute gem through the first four innings.
But finally for the Cavaliers, they struck with two-out lightning with storm clouds on the horizon in the fifth.
Owen Smith led off the inning with a double, then Richmond recorded his final two strikeouts of the contest — his sixth and seventh overall.
Richmond was then aiming for his third strikeout of Nate Bosway — the Southwest District Division IV Player of the Year.
But Bosway, with first base open, belted a double to right field over Owen Arix’s head.
That scored Smith for the 1-1 tie, as Lehman Catholic pitcher Parker Riley helped his cause with a single to left to plate Bosway.
Bowen credited the Cavaliers for coming up with the tying, go-ahead and eventual game-winning points.
Richmond pitched the distance for the Eagles, as he hit two batters along with the seven hits and seven strikeouts in facing the Cavaliers’ lineup three times through.
“I think Cameron pitched a great game from the first inning all the way through to the last. He did a phenomenal job, more than enough for us to win the game. And the kids made a lot of great defensive plays too. They (Cavaliers) just did their job in the fifth inning to get three hits and two runs,” said the coach. “They did their job on the other side and it was a good game.”
With the exception of the 1-2-3 opening inning, the Cavaliers did threaten in every at-bat, stranding two runners apiece in the second, fourth and sixth stanzas along with Riley’s pinch-runner at third in the fifth.
Dylan Arnold amassed doubles in the fourth and sixth innings, while also walking in the second.
The only other Cavalier basehits were singles by Ian Smith in the second and by Brandon Barhorst in the third.
Indeed, Richmond pitched well enough for the Eagles to win, but Eastern’s offense didn’t advance a runner beyond first base following the opening inning.
Riley only struck out two, but managed to retire the Eagles 1-2-3 in the third, fourth and final cantos — while facing four batters apiece in the second and fifth.
“We needed to do better offensively. We should have been able to hit that pitcher (Riley) a little bit better,” said Bowen. “We had seven hits, but after the first inning, we didn’t string anything together. And they made some good defensive plays on us too. Sometimes, that is baseball. Some days you have bloops and things fall in for hits, and some days you hit the ball right at people like today.”
Ethen Richmond singled to left in the second, followed by Arix’s two-out single to center in the fifth frame.
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, John Little singled to left to lead off, but was caught stealing for the first out.
“John Little had stolen second in the first inning and we scored off of it, and I liked his odds again in the sixth. He was locked in and had a good-sized lead, and I honestly thought he was safe,” said Bowen. “But again, that’s just baseball and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
With two outs, Kaleb Hill had an infield hit — and tried to take second on an overthrow of first base.
But Hill was tagged out by the shortstop Arnold on the throw back from first following the overthrow.
Little did the bulk of Eastern’s damage in the opening inning, as his beautiful bunt basehit got him aboard with one out.
After escaping a rundown between first and second on a pickoff attempt, he stole second and went to third on a Riley wild pitch — then scored on Cameron Richmond’s RBI-single to left field.
Hill then reached on a slow roller for an infield hit, but Riley started to turn the momentum for Lehman Catholic by inducing Josh Brewer to ground out into a 6-4-3 double play.
The Cavaliers improved to an impressive 23-4 with the win.
Thursday’s game marked the final for four Eastern seniors — Cameron Richmond, corner men Jesse Morris (third base) and Dillon Swatzel (first base), and injured Chase Curtis.
“The four seniors have done a great job of leading the team back to this point,” said Bowen. “We had a tough season a couple of seasons ago, and they led us back to the district finals last year and regionals this year. They’ve guided our younger kids to what Eastern baseball is supposed to be and has been.”
Now, what Bowen hopes it will be next season is a return to the regional round — and finally a semifinal win.
“Cameron (Richmond) did a phenomenal job as our ace. It will be a good opportunity for somebody to step up and be able to take his spot and do the things that he did for the team. There’s a lot of kids coming back, so it will be interesting to see what they do between now and then to make themselves better than what we were this year,” he said.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106