By KEVIN HARRIS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
With its backs against the wall and its undefeated 21-0 record on the line, the Floyd Central baseball squad came up with five runs in the top of the seventh inning on Tuesday night to capture a 6-2 win over No. 8 4A New Albany (15-5) in the first round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament at Mount Tabor Field.
“We pride ourselves on being able to hit the baseball,” said Floyd Central center fielder Derek DeSpain, whose three-run homer to left field dealt the deciding blow in the ballgame with one out in the top of the seventh. “Up until about the sixth inning, we hadn’t hit the ball all that well. But we know we can always get there.”
Until the final inning, there wasn’t much offense to speak of from either squad. New Albany right-hander Brandon Johnson pitched 6 1/3 innings, only giving up one run and four hits before Floyd Central broke through in the top half of the seventh inning.
Johnson struck out eight Floyd Central batters behind a sharp curveball and fastball that topped out around 90 miles an hour.
“The bottom line is I don’t think our offense did that well today,” New Albany coach Chris McIntyre said. “You can’t score only two runs and expect to win against a team that’s the quality of Floyd Central.”
The Class 4A No. 1 Highlanders (22-0) fell behind 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth when a suicide squeeze by New Albany’s A.J. Nixon plated Logan Striegel from third base with one out.
Floyd Central tied it in the top of the sixth when Coltom Kimm’s RBI single to center scored Trey Fulton and made it 1-1.
There was some controversy in the bottom of the sixth.
With two outs, a bunt attempt that was popped up by New Albany batter Jack Shine landed between Floyd Central pitcher Kyle Sipes and first baseman Ross Lundy along the first-base line. The one-out bunt scored Bulldog right fielder Jarius McClure to give New Albany a 2-1 lead. But Floyd Central coach Casey LaDuke argued that Shine interfered with the play on his way to first and should have been ruled out.
The umpires, who warned LaDuke to stay in the dugout for the remainder of the contest, ruled the bunt a legal play. As a results, the umps awarded Shine first base and McClure the run and upheld the lead.
“I thought there was contact, and the runner needs to avoid the fielder in that case,” LaDuke said. “I felt by rule, the runner should have been out ... and I told them that ... a few times.”
Still, Sipes came back to fan Nixon and Brady Parr to close out the inning and send the game to the top of the seventh. The Highlanders’ left-hander, who picked up his eighth win against no defeats, struck out seven New Albany batters while giving up two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
In the top of the seventh, consecutive one-out walks to Floyd Central’s Kyle Beach and Michael Springer put Beach on second base, and leadoff hitter Connor Curry singled home Beach to tie the ballgame at two.
Next, DeSpain’s towering home run hung in the air and looked as if it might stay within Mount Tabor Field but ultimately cleared the fence. To add an exclamation point, the Highlanders’ Jacob Snodgrass nailed a homer to left field following DeSpain’s dinger to finally chase Johnson from the game.
Following an opening single to Dylan Cook in the bottom of the seventh, Floyd Central reliever Garrett Ruttle fanned Tanner Robison and got Tucker Marcum to ground into a game-ending double play.
Floyd Central will host Seymour in the HHC Tournament semifinals at 6 tonight. New Albany will face Columbus East tonight at Mt. Tabor in the consolation semifinals of the tournament.