Greenwood’s baseball team did the unprecedented Tuesday evening at Warren East High School’s Raider Ballpark.
The Gators, seeded fourth in the 2017 District 14 Tournament, carried their momentum from a 12-3 opening round win over fifth-seeded Warren Central into the semifinal round – upsetting No. 1 Bowling Green with a 2-0 shutout victory.
It marked the first time either a No. 4 or No. 5 seed had beaten the top seed in the District 14 Tournament.
“You know, we had nothing to lose,” Greenwood head coach Jason Jaggers said. We didn’t finish the (regular-season) the way we wanted to, but we liked our chances. We had Nate (Cunningham) at full-go on the mound; and the way he pitched tonight – if he pitches like that every time then we’re gonna have a great chance to win.”
Cunningham pitched arguably the best game of his career – allowing not a single run with eight strikeouts and just four hits in a complete-game fashion.
“I’m at a loss,” the pitcher stated. “I knew we had the potential – I wouldn’t exactly call it an upset – but we just came out ready to play tonight and we got the result we wanted.”
In two appearances on the mound at WEHS this season, Cunningham has been quite impressive. Prior to Tuesday’s outing, he threw a four-hit, six-strikeout contest against East on May 1 in the opening game of the teams’ regular-season series.
The junior left-hander chuckled when asked if there’s something about pitching at Warren East that elevates him to pitch so well, adding an “I guess” with that laugh. His coach added that “I don’t know if it’s the mound or the atmosphere, but the kid’s a bulldog and probably the main reason why we had the opportunity to win tonight.”
Greenwood (17-18) only tallied two hits on the day, but one was a single that drove in a run while the other score was courtesy of a Bowling Green error. The Purples recorded four hits, but dominant defense by the Gators kept those baserunners from ever crossing the plate.
After four scoreless innings to begin the game, Greenwood provided the breakthrough in the top of the fifth inning.
With Adam Schneller on third base after reaching on a walk, coach Jaggers decided to pinch-hit Tyler Cook – and it turned out to be a smart move. Cook connected on the second pitch of his at-bat and singled into centerfield to plate Schneller and give the Gators the 1-0 lead.
“He hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunities at the varsity level, but on the JV level he’s swung it well the past three or four weeks,” said Jaggers of the decision to pinch-hit Cook. “It worked out that he didn’t start tonight and we talked about it as a staff that he’d be the first bat off the bench.
“When I went and told him that if we got a runner in scoring position that’d he’d be the first bat off the bench, he showed me his batting gloves and said, “Well, coach, I’m way ahead of ya. So you kind of knew that the confidence was already using out on him and he came through right there.”
Following Cook’s clutch hit, Dell Henk reached on an error, which moved Cook to third. Titus Thornhill came to the plate and also reached on an error, scoring the pinch-hitter to increase Greenwood’s advantage to 2-0.
Bowling Green (23-13) would tally a pair of singles in the bottom of the fifth and sixth innings, but it wouldn’t be able to find the answer.
“Everyone wasn’t expecting us to make it to where we are and to do this is just a great thing,” said Cook.
The Gators now advance to Wednesday’s District 14 championship and earn a trip to the Region 4 Tournament at Western Kentucky University – their first region appearance since 2013. They'll meet No. 3 Warren East Wednesday at 6 p.m. for the title.
“Just come in the same way we did today,” said Cunningham of how he and his teammates will approach the title match. “Just come in ready to fight and go to war.”Tyler Mansfield; @TheTMansfield