QUICK-STRIKE PURPLES/Madison’s early blast, Isenberg’s steady pitching lift BGHS past South Warren, 11-2, in KHSAA 14th title game


Drew Isenberg is finishing his sophomore year at Bowling Green High School.

The 5-foot-10, 135-pound pitcher/outfielder/first baseman went to bed on Monday night knowing he’d have the ball in his hands when the Purples’ baseball team squared off with South Warren on Tuesday in the KHSAA 14th District Tournament championship game at Warren Central.

Isenberg didn’t hear about it on the street, or over the Internet, or anything like that.

He learned he’d be the Purples’ starting pitcher from his Dad, Bowling Green coach Nate Isenberg. The Purples had played their way into the championship game after Monday’s 7-3 victory over Greenwood in a do-or-die semifinal game at Dragon Field.

“I just tried to go ahead in the count, work ahead in the count,” Drew Isenberg said after Bowling Green’s impressive 11-2 rout of No. 1 seed South Warren before a packed house at WCHS. “Stay low in the zone. I was able to work with my off-speed stuff.”

It was certainly a winning formula for the Purples, who now will get another home game on Monday in quarterfinal play of the KHSAA 4th Region Tournament. Bowling Green (20-11) has won 12 of its last 13 games, and the Purples seem to be playing their best baseball when it matters the most.

South Warren dropped to 23-9 overall, but the Spartans have plenty of offense to make a run in the 4th Region, which concludes with the semifinals and championship game at WKU’s Nick Denes Field.

“We hit the ball pretty well,” South coach Chris Gage said afterward. “We hit the ball hard, but we had some ‘at ’em’ balls. (Bowling Green) did a good job of hitting. The conditions weren’t very good. Coach Isenberg and I talked about that. It was pretty wet in the outfield.”

Warren Central’s players and some volunteers served as the tournament’s grounds crew, and the first pitch for the game was moved back one hour, to 7 p.m., to allow the field to dry. The large crowd had barely settled into their seats when BGHS junior Ethan Madison brought them perpendicular, with one big swing of the bat.

“Ethan’s one of the hardest workers on our team,” BGHS coach Nate Isenberg said. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done for our team. Played catcher, first base, DH …

“Our seniors have been outstanding. I’m really proud of the guys, the way they’ve played, all year long … I’m tickled but now, we’re focused on next week.

“My expectations have always been high; they’re always going to be high. Every year I go into the season planning on playing for a state title. I know the reality of that, when you are going up against 260 schools in a one-class system (in Kentucky) … We’ve just got to keep grinding.”

Bowling Green and South Warren will learn of their quarterfinal opponents in a draw to be held on Saturday morning at the Warren East High School cafeteria. They’ll take a quick break before returning to the practice field later this week.

In a one-and-done format, it’s best to strike quick.

That’s what the Purples did against South Warren. BGHS catcher Dom Davis came up with a soft line drive to left field to give Bowling Green its first base runner with two outs in the first inning. That’s when Ethan Madison stepped to the plate, against South Warren ace Dalton Sisson.

Madison sent Sisson’s second pitch over the wall in left-center field, his second tape-measure home run in one week. Madison unloaded a homer over the 25-foot wall in center field at Bowling Green’s Henry J. Stahl Field, which fueled the Purples’ 10-6 victory over a talented Warren East squad.

“Coach Isenberg was giving us a take until we saw a strike,” Madison said. “(Sisson) showed me a curveball for a called strike and my instinct was he’d come back with the fastball. I just tried to put a good swing on it.”

It was Madison’s fourth home run of the year, and it gave teammate Drew Isenberg an edge before he even took the pitcher’s mound. The Spartans scratched out a first-inning run, when South’s Griffin Rardin delivered an RBI single to right-center field, but South wouldn’t score again until the sixth.

That’s when the Purples had a couple errors, defensively, and when BGHS coach Nate Isenberg summoned senior right-hander P.J. Henderson from the bullpen.

Henderson retired four of the five South batters he faced, giving up a line-drive single to South slugger Ethan Reynolds in the bottom of the seventh inning, before slipping a called third strike past Spartans catcher Eli Capps to end the game.

“I think we pitched pretty well, against a good offensive team,” Nate Isenberg said.

Drew Isenberg was on point, on the mound.

The BGHS left-hander battled out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the third, inducing a ground ball from South Warren shortstop Griffin Rardin. He returned in the fourth, and retired the side on just four pitches.

Then, in the fifth inning, the Spartans’ Ty Croghan drew a one-out walk before teammate Ethan Reynolds ripped a shot down the third-base line.

BGHS third baseman Reid Buser came up with the one-hopper and fired to teammate Luke Idlett to start an inning-ending double play.

Idlett also had a defensive gem in the third, throwing out Croghan at home plate after Reynolds doubled to right-center field.

“I was yelling, ‘Cut, cut,’ but the crowd was so loud, I don’t think anybody could hear me,” BGHS catcher Dom Davis said. “Luke threw a missile to me, and all I had to do was make the tag.”

Drew Isenberg allowed one earned run over 5 1/3 innings pitched, earning his first victory of the season in five decisions.

The Purples put the issue to rest in the top of the sixth, striking for six runs on just four hits against three South Warren pitchers. Dalton Sisson fell to 4-1 on the season, but he’s likely to get the ball when the Spartans open regional play next week against an opponent to be determined on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of good teams in the 4th Region,” South coach Chris Gage said. “Russell County (last year’s state runner-up) is usually coming out of their district, Warren East is tough. Franklin-Simpson won their district …”

Ultimately, though, it was BGHS sophomore Drew Isenberg who set the tone on the mound.

“Drew was very focused out there,” BGHS junior catcher/first baseman Ethan Madison said. “For a guy with a smaller frame (5-foot-10, 135 pounds soaking wet), he sure can sling it.”

The next stage awaits.