Baseball, Softball Add 36th District Tournament Crowns

Highlands Wins All Seven District Tournament Titles in Academic Calendar Year

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Jake Gulley (6) digs in before throwing a pitch in the 36th District championship game against Newport Central Catholic. 

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When the final out occurred in the 7-0 36th District Tournament win over the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds, the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (21-16 overall) helped the school make history.

Highlands won all seven district tournament titles in volleyball, soccer, basketball, softball and baseball this academic school year for the first time in school history in the current format. The soccer and volleyball teams joined the current format in 2012. The baseball team has won nine straight district tournament titles.

“I’m glad we were the ones to be able to clinch it. That’s kind of cool,” said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. “We just want to be competitive in everything. That’s what I love about Highlands and Fort Thomas. We want to compete academically. We want to compete athletically. That’s pretty neat.”

Things at Highland Park started with senior pitcher Jake Gulley. He pitched six strong innings striking out seven, walking one and allowing just three hits.

18 N. Fort Thomas Ave. 

“Coach Baioni always emphasizes to the pitchers to be able to throw off-speed pitches on fastball counts,” Gulley said. “Earlier in the game, I couldn’t really locate so I had some walks. But later in the game, I started really getting a good feel for my curve ball. I threw it on counts they weren’t expecting it, which caused them to swing and miss.”

Junior Connor Schwalbach pitched the seventh inning. Schwalbach struck out three allowing just one hit. Highlands made two errors and left seven on base. NewCath made one error and left six on base.

Highlands faced NewCath junior pitcher Luke Wiles in the 4-2 loss on April 19 at Highland Park. The Bluebirds scored three runs against him in the second inning and never looked back. Highlands played as the visiting team as the second seed in the tournament.

The Bluebirds batted .344 (11-for-32) in the game. Senior Jason Noe went 2-for-3 with a triple, run batted in and run scored to lead the way. Junior Mason Welsch went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs batted in. Senior Braden Becker also went 2-for-4 with a double and run scored.

“We faced (Wiles) earlier in the year and he shredded us,” Baioni said. “We took much more aggressive approaches. That was a really good sign.”

Welsch had a two-run single in the second to put Highlands up 3-0. But senior Owen Carris hit a solo home run in the fifth to put Highlands up 4-0.

The Bluebirds added two in the sixth inning. Welsch doubled home a run and Gulley hit a sacrifice fly. Junior Nick Robinson singled home Becker in the top of the seventh to make the final score.

“(NewCath) had a couple big hits in the earlier innings that made us get on our feet and play at our best,” Welsch said. “That double helped put the game away. (Wiles) can just locate his fastballs really well. He can hit outside, in. He can throw off-speeds for strikes. He can locate them really well and that’s what make it so tough to hit him.”

Becker won the tournament’s most valuable player award. Senior John Barth and Gulley made the all-tournament team. The 9th Region Tournament will take place at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Stadium in Florence.

Highlands will face a runner-up from another district in the region in the first round. The opponent will be either Covington Catholic, St. Henry, Conner or Ryle. 


Highlands 15, Dayton 0:

Highlands (28-9) won its third straight 36th District crown in convincing fashion at Veterans Field in Newport over the Lady Devils (11-9) in three innings.

“We came to play. Sometimes it’s hard to get up when you beat a team earlier in the year,” said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. “I could tell from the first inning that we were focused. We were aggressive on the base paths and took advantage of some of their mistakes. They didn’t know how to handle our aggression.”

Barre3 Fort Thomas. 90 Alexandria Pike. 

Only one reached base via a walk against Highlands sophomore pitcher Kennedy Baioni. Baioni struck out three.

The Bluebirds batted .600 (12-for-20) in the victory. Junior shortstop Anna Greenwell homered on her way to a 2-for-2 day with four RBI and three runs scored. Freshman Bailey Markus went 3-for-3 with a triple, three runs scored, one stolen base and two RBI. Senior Bri Tharps went 3-for-3 with a double, two RBI, three stolen bases and two runs scored.

Senior Caroline Class and freshman Michelle Barth also had one hit and two RBI. Class had a double and stolen base. Seventh grader Payton Brown also scored twice and stole one base. Highlands left just two on base.

Brown won tournament MVP honors. Markus, Baioni and Barth made the all-tournament team. Brown and Markus did not get an out offensively in both games.

“We 100 percent need to be ready to go out and play,” Markus said. “Not that the competition was bad. But it will be better starting Saturday.”

Highlands scored four runs in the bottom of the first. The Bluebirds added 11 in the second and held Dayton scoreless in the top of the third to end the game.

Highlands will face a runner-up from another district in the region later in the week at Winkler Field. The opponent will be Villa Madonna, Beechwood, Notre Dame, Cooper or Boone County. The region semifinals and title game take place at Dixie Heights.

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