NORTH VERNON —
New Albany’s offense couldn’t solve Jennings County freshman Tyler Vogel and was eliminated in the first round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament by the host Panthers, 2-1 on Tuesday.
Vogel surrendered the Bulldogs’ lone run on five hits and allowed the Panthers to stay out in front most of the evening.
New Albany ace Brandon Johnson was nearly Vogel’s equal but took his first loss of the season after seven wins. He struck out 10 batters and allowed three hits, but the Bulldog offense simply didn’t have his back.
“One of the things we’ve done all year long is play hard and play smart,” New Albany coach Chris McIntyre said. “Today, that didn’t happen. We didn’t do anything well today. I thought our body language was poor and we went through the motions in the field and at the plate.
“They kept waiting for a big inning to save them and it never happened.”
Johnson wasn’t at his sharpest early. Jennings’ Sam Miller led off the bottom of the first with a single to left-center field. Vogel followed with a hit-and-run single that moved Miller to third with still nobody out. One out later, a wild pitch allowed Miller to score the first run of the game.
That score held up until the fifth. With Johnson having retired 10 straight batters, the Bulldogs (19-3) knotted the contest at 1-1 in the top of the fifth.
Jarius McClure reached on a two-out single for his second hit of the day. After he stole second base — his second steal of the game — Tucker Marcum singled to right-center to bring home McClure from second.
McClure finished 2-for-2 with a walk, a run and three stolen bases.
“Jarius got us going a couple of times,” McIntyre said. “He did a really good job today. Without him, things would have been bleak … bleaker.”
New Albany had a chance to take the lead in its half of the sixth, but a strong defensive play kept the Bulldogs off the board. Brady Parr reached on a two-out single into center field. A.J. Nixon followed with a double — the only extra-base hit of the game — into the right-center gap. Panther left fielder Tod Brown got to the ball quickly and threw to Owen Lad at second base. Lad then tossed a strike to catcher Conner Bryan, whose tag just got Parr before he could score the go-ahead run.
“There were two outs and it took two good throws,” McIntyre recalled. “You want to put pressure on the defense and make them make two good throws, and they did.”
Jennings took the lead in the bottom of the sixth thanks to two New Albany errors.
Lad hit a single back to Johnson on the mound. Johnson failed to field the ball and let the leadoff batter on. Pinch-runner Adam Driver went to second on a passed ball. With one out and Miller at the plate, New Albany catcher Timmie Redford kept a Johnson pitch from sailing over his head. However, Redford knocked the pitch into the dirt to allow Driver to break for third. Redford may have had a chance to get Driver for the second out, but his throw sailed into left field and Driver beat Parr’s throw for the game-winning run.
“Conference, obviously you want to win and play well,” McIntyre said. “But it’s not sectional. The aggravating thing is that we played like this so close to the end of the season.”
New Albany (19-3) will host Seymour tonight in the consolation round of the Hoosier Hills tourney.
Jennings (7-11), which had high expectations before a 6-11 start to the 2014 season, advances to the semis and will host Columbus East opposite of Jeffersonville’s semifinal.
“We’re starting to get a little healthier,” Panther coach Gabe Lowman said. “We still don’t have all of our pitchers back. But our defense is solidifying and our offense is going to score as many runs as it needs to.”
HOOSIER HILLS CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
JENNINGS COUNTY 2, NEW ALBANY 1
New Albany 000 010 0—1 5 2
Jennings County 100 001 x—2 3 0
W — Tyler Vogel (4-2). L — Brandon Johnson (7-1). 2B — A.J. Nixon (N).
Records — New Albany 19-3, Jennings County 7-11.