COMEBACK FOR THE AGES/Spartans erase six-run deficit, strike for 7-6 victory over BGHS in nine innings


Chris Gage, South Warren High School’s veteran baseball coach, was exhausted when it came time to meet with the media on Tuesday night.

Bowling Green High School, ranked third statewide by MaxPreps, grabbed a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning of a game that would square the two-game series with the Spartans. The Purples’ starting pitcher, senior right-hander Max Buchanon, put up a zero in the bottom half, but everything changed in the sixth inning.

Bowling Green’s Ben Davenport moved from shortstop to pitcher after Buchanon issued a leadoff walk, and Jaxen Decker’s two-run home run to the right-field corner helped pull the Spartans within 6-4 of the visitors. The Spartans had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh, but BGHS center fielder Drew Isenberg retired South’s Griffin Rardin with a perfect throw to the plate, completing a double play and sending the game into extra innings.

“It was a great throw,” Rardin said.

South Warren reliever Camden Page guided his team through the next two frames, and then the top of the Spartans’ lineup put together another rally with one out in the ninth. and Kye Rich delivered an RBI single down the left-field line, sending his team to a dramatic 7-6 victory and two-game sweep.

It was high school baseball at its finest.

“I’ve got nothing … (my) brain cells are gone,” Gage told reporters with a wry grin.

South Warren, a KHSAA state quarterfinalist last season, has shown a penchant for comeback triumphs in recent years. Maybe the Spartans were pushing their luck in this one, but they found a way. Much like they did in Monday night’s 4-2 victory over the Purples at BGHS.

“Our kids just never quit,” Gage said. “Every postseason game (last season), it seemed like they were down three runs in the sixth inning. This time, we were down six runs in the sixth inning …

“They tried to outdo themselves.”

BGHS catcher Ethan Madison admitted the Spartans have become a team to be reckoned with. The Purples remain a contender with a 19-4 overall record, but they fell to 1-3 in KHSAA 14th District play, meaning they’ll have to play in the district tournament’s ‘cut-throat’ semifinal next month at BGHS. They’ll face either South Warren (14-10, 4-0 in 14th District play) or Greenwood (19-4, 3-1), with the losing team having to pack its gear for the season.

The Spartans’ record is a bit deceiving, as they’ve gone 10-4 against KHSAA 4th Region opponents, leaving South, BGHS and Greenwood in the Top Five iin RPI in the always competitive region.

“They’re gonna be a tough team to knock out,” Madison said.

BGHS coach Adam Whitt is inclined to agree.

“The top of (South’s) batting order is really good,” Whitt said, “and their other guys did a good job (tonight) … We’ll play in that semifinal (next month). That’s one of the best 2-3 (district tournament) games in the state, every year.

“We’ve got 13 games left to figure it out.”

The Purples excel at manufacturing runs and have otherwise shown a resourceful side themselves this season, but South Warren hits throughout the lineup, with a virtual gauntlet at the top of the batting order. Versatile South junior Ethan Reynolds, who has moved into the starting center field role this season, is flirting with a .500 batting average with 17 extra-base hits and a team-high 30 RBI. But teammates Griffin Rardin (.403, 13 extra-base hits, 26 RBI), Ty Croghan (.371, 18 RBI), Camden Page (.391, 17 RBI) and Jaxen Decker (.328, 19 RBI) are also quite productive at the plate.

South Warren’s catcher, junior Casey Green, had critical singles in his last two at bats, helping the Spartans turn over the lineup quickly, keeping the pressure on the visiting Purples.

“We can’t let the scoreboard affect our mind-set if we get behind,” Reynolds said. “We have to stay with our approach. We kind of fed off each other’s energy, in the dugout. You’ve got to have nine guys, hitting the ball.”

Reynolds, who has played travel baseball with BGHS catcher Ethan Madison in recent summers, is headed to Western Kentucky University on a baseball scholarship. He’s also a top-flight linebacker for the Spartans’ football team. South coach Chris Gage said the Spartans like multi-sport athletes, pointing out that his leadoff hitter, freshman Camden Page, has played football AND basketball before joining the baseball team in March.

Page, a tall right-hander, was the winning pitcher, working 4 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the victory.

“Cam had to catch up a little bit, with his pitching, early on,” Gage said. “But it’s a credit to the entire school. We like multi-sport athletes, kids who like to compete.”

The two teams were locked in a scoreless struggle until the fifth inning, when BGHS catcher Ethan Madison opened the scoring with a deep sacrifice fly that scored leadoff man Evan Schallert from third base. Reid Buser added an RBI single to right-center field, and the Purples’ Ben Davenport and Luke Idlett added run-scoring singles before the side was finally retired.

“We put up that six-spot,” Whitt said, “and didn’t do much after that … The game is never over, especially with a team like (South Warren).”

Reynolds and Rardin both went 3-for-5, but South’s senior DH, Kye Rich, was 0-for-4 when he stepped to the plate to face Davenport with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Rich also had hit into two inning-ending double plays.

“It’s hard to have a lot of confidence there, when you’re looking at an 0-for-4 night,” Rich said, “but the coaches told me, ‘This is your moment.’

“I kind of said to myself, ‘Bring it on.'”

South Warren only needs a split in next week’s two-game series against Greenwood High School to earn the No. 1 seed for the KHSAA 14th District Tournament, but the Gators have a team ERA of less than 2.00, impressive at any level of baseball, from Little League to MLB.

“To be honest, I don’t like looking ahead,” South coach Chris Gage said. “It’s almost like running … which I don’t do much of. You don’t look forward …

“I like to focus on what’s in front of me. You start projecting out, it’ll get you in trouble.”

South Warren will play host to Liberty Creek High School, an opponent from Tennessee, on Thursday at 5 p.m., while Bowling Green returns to Harold J. Stihl Field for a home game against Logan County (12-12, 4-8 against KHSAA 4th Region opponents). First pitch for that game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.