Bulldogs open regionals with a 14-game winning streak

The Harrisburg baseball team finished the regular season last week with four wins to begin the postseason with a 28-5 record and a 14-game winning streak with the Bulldogs host the 2A Regionals at The Jay as the No. 1 seed.

“It was a great way to finish for us,” said Harrisburg coach Jay Thompson. “The weekend was great for us. We played 22 very tense innings against three outstanding teams. We always try to finish with tournament type teams to hopefully get our kids ready to what they’re going to see in the playoffs.”

Harrisburg will be hoping to win for its seventh straight regional title and its 13th in its last 14 seasons since Jay Thompson returned to the dugout after a taking a three-year hiatus from 2007 to 2009.

The winning streak could have been 25 if not for a 2-0 loss to Daviess County in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader at the Graves County Kentucky Tournament that snapped a then 10-game winning streak that started after beginning the season with a 4-4 record.

“We had a great regular season,” Thompson said. “We started out with a very difficult schedule and we lost four of first eight games, but the kids continued to work and improve and the results have been fantastic.”

The first round actually begins Monday with No. 6 seed Johnston City (15-12-1) hosting No. 8 seed Vienna (14-14) and No. 5 seed Massac County (21-9) hosting No. 10 seed West Frankfort (6-19).

Back at The Jay Harrisburg will play the winner of Johnston City and Vienna Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Anna-Jonesboro (13-15-1) will play the winner of Massac County and West Frankfort Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The championship game is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.

“It’s nice to host,” Thompson said. “We’re not any different than anybody else we play better at home, so that’s certainly an advantage. Vienna and Johnston City are both good teams, so that one could go either way.”

The Bulldogs have posted a 18-1 record at The Jay with a 16-game home winning streak coming into the playoffs. The only loss came to McCracken County in the third home game of the season on March 19.

Last week started with Owen Rann and Camron Ande combining for a six-hit shutout of the Wildcats. The Bulldogs scored all five runs in the first three innings with two in the first on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Braden Burtis and a single by third baseman Noah Arnold, one in the second on a single by second baseman Ethan Golish and two in the third on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Reed Rider and a passed ball.

“Rann and Ande have been good for us all year and they were good that day,” Thompson said.

After a home game against Mt. Carmel was rained out and the Bulldogs were rained out at Goreville Thursday the game was moved to Friday where the Bulldogs beat the Blackcats, 3-2, in extra innings on a leadoff home run to left by Golish.

“It was a great game,” Thompson said. “Goreville is really good. They are going to be very hard for any class A team to beat in the playoffs.”

Golish was the starter on the mound and retired the first eight batters he faced before giving up a two-out walk in the third and stranding him at first on a ground out. After Harrisburg took the lead in the top of the fourth on a two-out double by Arnold, but Goreville took the lead in the bottom of the frame on a one-out two-run home run.

Golish then struck out the next batter, but hit the next. With a 2-1 count on the following batter sophomore Brody Nyberg was brought in. His first pitch was a wild pitch advancing the runner to second where he scored on a single on the next pitch.

“Brody has had a great year for our JV,” Thompson said. “We were a little short in pitching that day and I’ve been wanting to see him in a varsity game anyway, so I threw him out there and he responded beautifully.”

The Bulldogs tied the game in the sixth on a leadoff double by designated hitter Dawson Griffith followed by a single by Rider. Ande finished the game on the mound pitching around a one-out single in the sixth, a two-out walk and single in the seventh and a one-out single and walk in the bottom of the eight to earn the win.

The regular season ended Saturday with a doubleheader in Tolono against Normal University and Tolono Unity. In the first game, the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a two-out, two-run single by Golish in the bottom of the third.

After Normal cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth, the Bulldogs put the game away with four runs in the bottom of the fourth starting with a one-out double by Arnold after Rider led off with a walk. After center fielder Brendan Bergan and Rann walked to load the bases, Arnold scored on back-to-back passed balls.

One out later the bases were loaded again when catcher Jack Ford was hit by a pitch. Golish finished the rally by driving in Rann and Bergan with a line drive single to center to up the lead to 6-1.

The Pioneers cut the lead to 6-4 with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth, but the Bulldogs added three runs in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out, two-run home run by Golish followed by a solo home run by Griffith.

Burtis pitched into the fifth inning giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts. Rann finished up getting last two outs in the fifth and closed out giving up one run on two hits and one walk with two strikeouts to earn his second save of the season.

“Normal U was one of the best three teams we’ve played this season and we played about as well as we can play against them,” Thompson said. “Burtis was phenomenal giving us four innings plus and Rann came in and closed it out. Those two guys really picked us up Saturday morning.”

In the nightcap, Arnold pitched the Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over Tolono Unity. The senior gave up an unearned run in the first inning following a leadoff double on a sacrifice fly after the runner advanced to third on an error.

The Bulldogs tied the game in the fifth on a leadoff single by Bergan and a two-out single by Ande and took the lead in the top of the sixth when Griffith was walked and Burtis was hit with one out and Bergan drove courtesy runner Xavier Robinson home on a ground out to short.

Arnold pitched around five more hits, two walks and two errors until he was relieved in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs. Rann came in and earned his second save of the day and third of the season by striking out the first batter he faced on four pitches.

The Bulldogs enter the playoffs with a .320 team batting average, a team ERA of 1.393 and a fielding average of .946.

Golish leads the team with a .420 batting average, in home runs with eight, including a grand slam, in RBIs with 37, in hits with 42 and in doubles with 12. He got at least one hit in all but four of the last 25 games, including a 10-game hitting streak in the middle of the season.

“Eight home runs is the most we’ve had for at least 10 years since Ryne Roper,” Thompson said. “Golish is also one of our best pitchers. He’s had a great year.”

Ande, who plays shortstop, was second on the team with a .367 batting average, in RBIs with 25, in hits with 40 and in doubles with 10 while leading in stolen bases with 16. The senior had a 10-game hitting streak snapped against Normal Saturday.

“Camron has been the unluckiest guy I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “I bet he’s had 15 line drives caught. His average, while it is good, is still not indicative of what kind of hitter he’s been for us.”

The Bulldogs go into the playoffs with six of their starting lineup batting over .326 with Arnold third at .347 followed by Griffith (.346), Rider (.337) and Ford (.326).

“Arnold has really picked it up at the plate,” Thompson said. “His last 10 or so games he’s been a big contributor.”

Arnold is the top pitcher on the staff with a 9-1 record in 10 starts and a 0.50 ERA. The right-hander also had one appearance out of the bullpen earning a save against Massac County.

The rest of the starting staff is Burtis (6-2) with a 1.67 ERA in seven starts, Golish (5-1) with a 1.73 ERA in seven starts and Rann (3-1) with a 1.01 ERA in six starts.

Ande and Rann are the top pitchers out of the bullpen. Ande made 11 appearances posting a 2-0 record with a 1.00 ERA. He also won his only start going the distance giving up no earned runs in six innings. Rann also made five appearances out of the bullpen.

“Camron’s been our best relief pitcher all year — it’s nice to have him in our back pocket,” Thompson said. “He able to come in and get the job done. He’s a great strike thrower. When he’s on the mound we’re not going to give runs away. Owen has been super.”