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MIDDLETOWN - Coaches will always say that any first-round battle is one in which your team must find a way to win and survive.
On Monday, the Bullitt East Chargers found that exact combination in holding off a late Holy Cross comeback.
The 6-4 victory advanced the Chargers to the semifinal round of the Sixth Region baseball tournament on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Patterson Field at the University of Louisville. They will play Butler, which had to come from behind to defeat Doss 16-7.
On an extremely hot day, nothing came easy for the Chargers.
Catcher Hunter Wood got the Chargers off to a 1-0 with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first inning as his homer easily cleared the right-center field fence
With Colten Maupin on the hill, the senior saw centerfielder Jacob Woodruff put together a defensive highlight film all on his own.
Holy Cross’ Jacob Kaelin led off the game with an infield single. However, he was picked off first base on a hit and run liner off the bat of Conner Schonburg, which was caught by second baseman Austin Money.
The other out that inning came off a sliding catch in short centerfield by Woodruff.
In the second inning, Cougar pitcher Chad Conway ripped a shot into the gap but Woodruff made another diving catch. Not to be outdone, Maupin caught a screaming line drive off the bat of Justin McGohon to end the second inning.
Bullitt East went to work in the second inning.
Trevor Gonzalez opened with a walk and Adam Howell’s sacrifice bunt to the pitcher turned into no outs as Conway’s attempt to get the runner at second was high. A balk advanced both runners.
Michael Faul followed with a fielder’s choice to drive in the second run.
Playing a little small ball, head coach Jeff Bowles called for the squeeze bunt by Josh Stearns, which worked to perfection and a 3-0 lead.
Bullitt East would score two more runs in the third.
Wood walked and Brett Hatfield was called on as a courtesy runner for the catcher.
After a stolen base by Hatfield, Alex Richardson’s single plated the fourth Charger run. Richardson went to second on the throw home and then to third on an errant pickoff throw. Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Richardson.
Maupin would get into trouble in the top of the fourth - but it could have been much worse.
After the first two runners reached on singles, Woodruff made his third big sliding catch of the day.
Kyle Norris followed with a single to load the bases with one out. McGohon followed with an RBI single and a second run scored on a bad throw to the infield.
Maupin came back to preserve the 5-2 lead with a pair of outs to close out his day on the mound.
With Woodruff now on the mound, Holy Cross got runners on second and third with one out. However, the lefty came back with consecutive strikeouts to end the threat.
With the Cougar defense in a shift, Wood put down a bunt single. Hatfield would run once again. Richardson reached on an error and Howell’s single plated the sixth run.
Woodruff again faced baserunners in the sixth. The first two batters reached but an attempted bunt was fielded by Woodruff who got the force out at third.
A wild pitch advanced runners to second and third with one out but Woodruff again got out of trouble with a fly out and a strikeout.
With Gonzalez called on to close out the victory, Holy Cross made one last charge.
Jacob Kaelin’s double was followed by an RBI single by Clayton Snyder.
After a strikeout, a single by Conway was followed by a walk to Norris to load the bases and bring the winning run to the plate.
However, Gonzalez got McGohon looking. Then, Kaelin drew an RBI walk to make it 6-4 and the bases still loaded.
That’s when Gonzalez got Christopher Phillips on a final strike to close out the victory.
“This group of guys has won a lot of close games all year long,” said Bowles, whose team is now 33-6. “They know how to win close games.”
While the hook was somewhere in his pocket, Bowles said he always felt confident in Gonzalez, who is just one of many hurlers the coach can call on to pitch.
“You always have a plan,” Bowles said of his pitching rotation. “Sometimes you have to alter the plan.”
There was no such change on Monday as the senior lefty battled to the final out.
Despite a 9-19 record for Holy Cross, Bowles said he knew it would be a tough game.
Getting off to a quick start was important, as was the defensive performance of Woodruff.
“We played pretty good defense today,” said Bowles.
He was also proud that three of the nine hits came the way of the bunt.
“We can play some small ball, too,” said Bowles.
While some first-round games are mismatches, the veteran skipper knew Monday would not be that way.
“We’re battle-tested today with a good game,” said Bowles. “You get nothing out of a blowout. We survived today and we get to advance."