Friday, May 28, 1999

Wagner's grand slam carries NewCath




BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Kevin Wagner spent his boyhood dreaming of such a scenario: two outs, down by three, bases loaded in a playoff game. Who hadn't?

        But when it presented itself Thursday, the Newport Central Catholic senior didn't dare focus on the fantasy. “I went to the plate saying, "Just hit the ball hard somewhere,'” Wagner said.

        Hard happened, and somewhere turned out to be over Newport High School's left-field fence. One swing swung NewCath's season back from the brink.

        Wagner's fifth-inning grand slam gave the Thoroughbreds a lead they wouldn't lose in an 11-9 victory over Newport in a 36th District semifinal. NewCath (16-15), seeking its fourth consecutive district crown, meets Highlands (18-15) in the title game at 4:30p.m. today at Newport.

        “It was a big win and a great way to do it,” Wagner said. “When I hit that, it felt great — I knew it was gone. And I knew it would pick us up.”

        Wagner's wallop came just in time to salvage the spring. NewCath — coming off a 25-8 season, its first 20-win effort since 1991 — had been ranked No.1 early this season. Playing a young lineup, it struggled to find consistency and finished the regular season sub-.500.

        But two victories this week have clinched a Ninth Region tournament berth. If it can beat Highlands today for the third time this spring, NewCath will win home-field advantage for a regional opener and draw a runner-up from another district.

        “I told the kids our goal every year should be to be in the region (tournament),” NewCath coach Jeff Schulkens said. “It was a tough way to go this year, but we're in.”

        These crosstown rivals met Thursday for the first time this spring, having been rained out twice. Newport (13-17) was vastly improved from last year, when it lost to NewCath 15-1 en route to a 6-20 finish.

        The Wildcats erased a 3-1 deficit Thursday by scoring three runs in the fourth and five in the fifth to take a 9-4 lead.

        “Our guys were pretty down,” Schulkens said. “I saw gloves being thrown in the dugout. I told them, "It's time to pick yourself up. Take pride in that uniform.'”

        Backs to the wall, back came the Thoroughbreds. Senior Jason Roderick opened the fifth with a grounder to third, but the throw arrived wide.

        One out later, Matt Sharp singled, and Steve Broering and Matt Darnell walked to force in a run. But when Andy Wallenhorst bounced into a fielder's choice, there were two outs, and Newport looked safe.

        Then sophomore Vince Bonhaus singled to center, making it 9-6.

        “Bonhaus coming through and set the table for Kevin,” Schulkens said. “I tell the younger guys, "Seniors win it. Just put them in position and they'll come through.'”

        Newport coach Ray Brown had visited Eric Merrill on the mound before Wagner's home run.

        “I probably should have taken him out then,” Brown said. “It's not the kids' fault; it's my fault.”

        Roderick, who went the distance Tuesday in beating Dayton, closed out Newport quickly in relief the last two innings.

        “After Kevin's homer,” Roderick said, “we knew we wouldn't lose.” Newport ....... 010  350  0— 9   8  3 Newport CC ....... 210  161  x—11  11  3

        WP--Roderick (3 Ks). LP--Merrill. Hitting leaders: NCC--Wagner 2-4, HR, 5 RBI; Bonhaus 2-3, 2 RBI; Sharp 3-4; Wallenhorst 2-4; N--Partin 3-4, HR, 2 RBI; Turner 2-4; Pompilio 2 RBI. Records: NCC 16-15, Newport 13-17.

       



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