- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
It was almost a run-rule victory for Lebanon’s 12-year-old all-stars. Then it was almost a crushing defeat.
Lebanon went through an emotional gauntlet Sunday before holding off Mason 11-10 in seven innings in the losers’ bracket final of the District 9 Little League baseball tournament at West Side.
“Oh, we were sweating,” Lebanon coach Kelby Bittman said with a smile. “But we’ve worked hard all year, and the kids believe in themselves. We’ve been down a ton of games — 5-0 early, 4-0 early — and they never give up. I guess it works just as well when you go up 10-1 early and don’t give up.”
Mason rose up down the stretch after getting slapped by that 10-1 deficit, scoring three times in the bottom of the fifth inning and adding six two-out runs in the sixth to force an extra frame.
Jack Cecil’s RBI double plated Will Bittman for the winning run in the seventh. Mason then loaded the bases on singles by Kyle Brackenridge, Noah Lenhart and Zack Adleta before Nick McHenry struck out Garrett Hurr to end the game.
“I was really nervous at the end,” said Will Bittman, Lebanon’s catcher who doubled, homered, walked twice and drove in three runs. “When I was catching, there were a few balls that I had to get down and block. I knew I had to try to stop them the best I could. It felt really good to get that last strikeout.”
Three of Mason’s sixth-inning runs came home on wild pitches. One was tallied on a passed ball, while Andrew McClain also had a two-run single.
McHenry, throwing 1.1 innings in relief of Charlie Edling, Max Kinsey and Sean Kober, picked up the mound win. Levi Vestal, Brackenridge, Lenhart and Carson McEntire did the pitching for Mason, with McEntire getting the loss.
“We were on fumes a little bit with our pitching,” Mason coach Chris Hurr said. “That was our seventh baseball game in a week, so when you drop down to that losers’ bracket, it really starts to tax your pitchers. That was all guts that got ’em that far, and to go extra innings was kind of fitting.
“We were so close. I thought you could stick a fork in us when we were down 10-1, but when you coach, you want the kids to not only become better baseball players, but become better people and not quit and not give up.
“I’ve never been prouder of a youth sports team. They were amazing. Nobody outside of our clubhouse and our parents thought we would get this far. I don’t care what the scoreboard says. We were down 10-1 and we said, ‘Clear eyes, full hearts and pride on three,’ and they kept their head up. That was a helluva baseball game.”
Lenhart was 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs for Mason, which stranded 11 runners (nine in the last four innings). Brackenridge had three hits, and McClain and Vestal chipped in two apiece.
Kinsey collected three hits for Lebanon. Cecil added a solo home run to his game-winning double, and Edling, McHenry and Kober notched an RBI apiece.
Lebanon and Mason played multiple times this season — Kelby Bittman said five, Chris Hurr said four — and Lebanon did not lose a game in the series.
“Every one of them has been close,” Bittman said. “We know we’re going to get a battle every time we play them.”
Lebanon lost to Hamilton West Side 15-1 on Saturday in the double-elimination event and will now face unbeaten West Side for the championship Monday at 6:30 p.m. If a second final is necessary, it will follow at 8:30 p.m.
Bittman said his son will start the day on the mound for Lebanon.
“Sure we can,” Kelby Bittman said when asked if his squad can conquer West Side. “We’ve already played them once, so we know what we’re facing. I think we’ve shown that we can hit in these games. We just need to go out and do it. If we can hit, we’ll stay in the game.
“There’s nothing to lose. You just have to go out and take a deep breath and play your best. Trust each other, trust your coaches and put it on the line.”
Hurr said a 5-2 record in the district tournament was a great showing by his Mason squad. West Side blanked Mason 10-0 early in the tourney.
“I feel bad for Lebanon because Hamilton’s a machine,” Hurr said. “On our end, not many people gave us a chance to win more than a game or two, and we end up going 5-2 on the week. So we head into the offseason with smiles on our faces. Maybe not tonight, but certainly the sun will come up tomorrow and we’ll feel good. It was fun.”
West Side coach Ken Coomer said he’ll start his ace, Braedyn Moore, on the mound Monday.
The District 9 champion will advance to the state tournament in Maumee. The local winner will open against either Maumee or Wheelersburg at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
WP — Nick McHenry; LP — Carson McEntire; HR — L: Will Bittman, Jack Cecil; M: Noah Lenhart