Strong league prepped Wildcats for tourney run


By Mark Huber - mhuber@wnewsj.com



Blanchester’s Brant Bandow (left), Jack Davidson (middle) and Cole Ficke (right) after the district championship trophy had been presented to the Wildcats baseball team Sunday at Waynesville High School.

Blanchester’s Brant Bandow (left), Jack Davidson (middle) and Cole Ficke (right) after the district championship trophy had been presented to the Wildcats baseball team Sunday at Waynesville High School.


Mark Huber | News Journal

Dustin Howard is congratulated in the dugout after his seventh inning trick play helped Blanchester to a 9-6 win over Carlisle.


Mark Huber | News Journal

Howard could have second career as actor

In Blanchester baseball lore it will forever be known as “The Fall” or the “Phantom Steal.”

The Wildcats pulled off the successful trick play in the seventh inning of Sunday’s 9-6 win over Carlisle in a Division III Southwest District championship game.

The victory put BHS in the regional tournament for the first time in school history. The district championship was the school’s first in baseball in five tries, having finished as runnersup in 1951, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2015.

The only thing that would have made the trick play more legendary would have been if it was involved in the game-winning run.

Instead, it just gave the Wildcats a more comfortable three-run lead. Which, as coach Aaron Lawson said, was a big deal.

“If you can hand your ace three runs (for a lead) and say “Give me three outs, I really like our odds’,” Lawson said.

The play came with Howard on first and Preston Griffin on third with two outs in the seventh. Blanchester led 8-6.

But the basis or idea for the trick play came the day before.

“We were going to do it on Saturday but it got rained out,” Howard said. “The fact that he (Lawson) called me to do it, in a district championship game, I knew it had to be important.”

So Howard practiced the play. Get your lead off first, two take hard steps toward second as if attempting a steal, then fall down. Not only fall down but scramble to get up.

The hope is to lure the Carlisle pitcher off the mound physically - and away from Griffin mentally. Howard then had to remain in a run-down or pickle play long enough that Griffin could scamper home with the all important ninth run.

“I had four reps on Saturday and Sunday,” Howard said of his practicing the trick play. “Before that we only practiced it twice (early in the year).”

When Howard hit the dirt and the pitcher began racing toward him, the plan was destined for success, and a place in history.

“I think Sunday’s (fall down) was probably the best,” Howard said. “I felt comfortable doing it. Everybody said I should have won an Academy Award or all these acting awards.”

Blanchester senior Brant Bandow was quick to respond when asked what it meant to play Bethel-Tate in Thursday’s Region 12 semifinal baseball game at Xenia’s Athletes in Action Sports Complex.

“I think it shows how strong our league was this year,” he said. “A lot of times our league gets looked down upon. This year we played CNE (Clermont Northeastern) for the sectional title and now we’re playing Bethel-Tate in the regional semis.”

The SBAAC is certain to be represented by at least one baseball team in the Region 12 championship game Friday afternoon. Clinton County is hoping for a blue and white winner on Thursday.

“This is kinda cool,” said senior Christopher “Topher” Farrow. “The last two or three years, it’s been back and forth between us and Bethel. Now we’re playing for the big game.”

Blanchester and Bethel-Tate split two division games during the regular season, each winning on the other team’s home field. They also played two non-league games with Blanchester winning both but neither team used their top pitchers.

The Wildcats won the National Division championship this season.

“Us being the league champs, I feel like there’s more pressure on us,” said Dustin Howard. “Everybody’s going to expect us to win.”

Howard, however, doesn’t believe being the favorite is a bad thing. He’s ready to handle that pressure.

“Think positive,” he said. “To relieve the pressure, I just always think positive. No negative thoughts.”

It helps to have a close-knit team. You’ve heard the phrase “Check your ego at the door.” That certainly applies to the these Wildcats.

“This year, we’re one big unit,” said Jack Davidson. “Past teams, players stuck to a group. There were different groups on the team. This year, I feel like we welcomed newcomers with open arms. We share the spotlight with the younger group. That’s gotten us to where we are.”

And that was important for this team. Though the six-member senior class is the biggest on the team, there are sophomores and freshmen who are talented and played key roles in this team’s success.

Sophomores Jacksson Waialae and Mason Rector, and freshmen Cole Ficke and Brody Rice are four reasons the Wildcats are where they are.

“Previous years, different sports, it was just more difficult to get along,” said Farrow, who was hit in the mouth by a ground ball during Sunday’s pre-game infield practice. “I didn’t feel like there was any drama with this team. Very easy to play with each other.”

And even though Bandow, Davidson, Farrow and Howard are the captains of this 19-10 BHS squad, their ears are open to listen to any and all comments.

“Everybody’s on board with whatever anybody has to say,” Davidson said. “Some guys have that self-entitled mindset. Not this group. This group is special.”

Blanchester’s Brant Bandow (left), Jack Davidson (middle) and Cole Ficke (right) after the district championship trophy had been presented to the Wildcats baseball team Sunday at Waynesville High School.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/05/web1_BB_blan_trophyCarME-5.jpgBlanchester’s Brant Bandow (left), Jack Davidson (middle) and Cole Ficke (right) after the district championship trophy had been presented to the Wildcats baseball team Sunday at Waynesville High School. Mark Huber | News Journal

Dustin Howard is congratulated in the dugout after his seventh inning trick play helped Blanchester to a 9-6 win over Carlisle.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/05/web1_BB_blan_howard-1.jpgDustin Howard is congratulated in the dugout after his seventh inning trick play helped Blanchester to a 9-6 win over Carlisle. Mark Huber | News Journal

By Mark Huber

mhuber@wnewsj.com

Howard could have second career as actor

In Blanchester baseball lore it will forever be known as “The Fall” or the “Phantom Steal.”

The Wildcats pulled off the successful trick play in the seventh inning of Sunday’s 9-6 win over Carlisle in a Division III Southwest District championship game.

The victory put BHS in the regional tournament for the first time in school history. The district championship was the school’s first in baseball in five tries, having finished as runnersup in 1951, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2015.

The only thing that would have made the trick play more legendary would have been if it was involved in the game-winning run.

Instead, it just gave the Wildcats a more comfortable three-run lead. Which, as coach Aaron Lawson said, was a big deal.

“If you can hand your ace three runs (for a lead) and say “Give me three outs, I really like our odds’,” Lawson said.

The play came with Howard on first and Preston Griffin on third with two outs in the seventh. Blanchester led 8-6.

But the basis or idea for the trick play came the day before.

“We were going to do it on Saturday but it got rained out,” Howard said. “The fact that he (Lawson) called me to do it, in a district championship game, I knew it had to be important.”

So Howard practiced the play. Get your lead off first, two take hard steps toward second as if attempting a steal, then fall down. Not only fall down but scramble to get up.

The hope is to lure the Carlisle pitcher off the mound physically – and away from Griffin mentally. Howard then had to remain in a run-down or pickle play long enough that Griffin could scamper home with the all important ninth run.

“I had four reps on Saturday and Sunday,” Howard said of his practicing the trick play. “Before that we only practiced it twice (early in the year).”

When Howard hit the dirt and the pitcher began racing toward him, the plan was destined for success, and a place in history.

“I think Sunday’s (fall down) was probably the best,” Howard said. “I felt comfortable doing it. Everybody said I should have won an Academy Award or all these acting awards.”

Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email mhuber@wnewsj.com or on Twitter @wnjsports

Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email mhuber@wnewsj.com or on Twitter @wnjsports