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Forget regular season, it’s tournament time with Highlands ready and Conner going home in a thriller

Jack Hendrix knew he was going to get his chance in the semifinal game against Conner.

He knew he was going to have to give up his regular spot as the Highlands shortstop to do it.

He knew, according to “texts from Coach B (Highlands Coach Jeremy Baioni)” Sunday night that he would be expected to throw his breaking ball at all times, in all counts.

He also knew that he’d retain his customary No. 2 spot in the batting order thanks to his .480 season average.

Highlands Bluebirds rush the field.

And having thrown just 24 1/3 innings in nine games, his coach knew that he’d be “fresh and strong,” even if three other Bluebird pitchers had thrown as many or more innings as the quick-armed senior who is their ace with a 1.48 ERA.

What Hendrix didn’t know was that after his single in the first inning to become the game’s first baserunner, hitter and eventually the first to cross the plate to give Highlands a 1-0 lead, he’d be the last to cross the plate in this game.

“It’s why I love baseball,” Hendrix said with a grin after pitching and hitting his Highlands team to a 1-0 win that could have been called after the top of the first. You just never know.

Although that would have meant we wouldn’t have seen Hendrix’ 12 strikeouts limiting a Conner team that had beaten Highlands in all three matchups this year, outscoring the Birds, 25-12.

No such scoring in this one. Only one Cougar reached as far as third, two made it to second. None made it home as the Hebron guys headed home after a 26-13 season.

Play ball for the 9th region semifinals at Thomas More Stadium.

“One run, that’s it,” Conner Coach Brad Arlinghaus told his guys. “I’m proud of you guys . . . I know that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

“One base hit there and they might have won the game,” Baioni said of the times Conner had a chance. But both times they had a man on second, Hendrix closed the inning out with back-to-back strikeouts. And the time a Cougar reached third, with the infield in, the Birds stopped that on a bang-bang shot to short.

That was it. No one else came close to home plate.

Except, that is for both pitchers. Lost a bit in Hendrix’ brilliance was the five-hit, six-strikeout work of Conner senior Oliver Kerns, who finished the season 3-3 with an ERA below 2.50 as he moves on to South Carolina Upstate for baseball.

Hendrix had such a mastery of the pitches he threw, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t throw his circle change-up after injuring his ring finger on his throwing hand sliding into a base against Newport Central Catholic last week.

His slider and curve were working so well off his 87-88-mph fast ball that those 12 strikeout victims had little chance.

“That was the idea,” Hendrix said. “Coach B has been preaching that all year – all pitches for strikes.” At any time, in any place, with any count, against any batter.

“People will say good pitch calling, good sequencing,” Baioni said. “That’s not true. It’s about him executing his pitches.”

The way Hendrix took the Cougars’ bats away, it was an execution of sorts against a Conner team averaging 7.3 runs over the last 10 games.

“We talk about ‘dudes’ who show up when it matters most,” Baioni said. “That guy’s a ‘dude’.”

He’ll be moving on to college with another Northern Kentucky “dude,” Beechwood’s Cameron Boyd as both have signed to play baseball at Southern Indiana.

But first there’s a regional championship game to play Wednesday against Beechwood at 7 p.m. at Thomas More Stadium.

And no, Highlands’ Baioni won’t be second-guessing himself about not getting Hendrix more innings in the regular season.

“Those games don’t mean anything,” Baioni said. This does.

And one other thing about Hendrix.

“He’s our shortstop,” Baioni said.

Which is where he’ll be Wednesday.


CONNER 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0-4-0
HIGHLANDS 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 1-5-0

WP: Hendrix (3-1), LP: Kerns (3-3)

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