Warren East has captured its first District 14 championship since 2011 - and did so in convincing fashion.
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Ryan Hawks pitches in WE's 9-0 shutout win over Greenwood in District 14 championship Thursday / Photo by Paul Gray[/caption]
The third-seeded Raiders shutout No. 4 Greenwood, 9-0, Thursday evening in the title game of the District 14 Baseball Tournament at their own Raider Ballpark. East tallied 11 hits on the day and has now improved its record to 26-7 on its remarkable 2017 campaign.
"I've been thinking about it all day long - just how bad I wanted it," Warren East head coach Wes Sanford said of how special it was to win the championship on the Raiders' home field. "All of the coaches and kids put a lot of hours in out here and it's just really special to do it in front of all these fans. It's not the end goal for us, but it's a great start and something that we did want."
East advanced to the championship game after easily getting past two-seeded South Warren, 12-1, in Tuesday's semifinal round. Senior Davion Downey allowed just one hit and a run while Thursday's starter, sophomore Ryan Hawks, performed in a similar way - giving up just a single hit to go along with eight strikeouts.
"It starts with good pitching and those two guys who threw for us threw really well," Sanford stated. "Offensively, we grinded; we had pretty good at-bats for the most part all night long. It was good to see."
Said the Louisville commit Hawks of how he pitched: "It felt amazing. We just wanted to come out here and win it for the seniors in their last home game. We tried to come out strong and jump out to an early lead - and we did that."
Five different Raiders recorded multi-hit performances, as the Baylor signee Downey went 2-for-3 with four RBI in his final game at Raider Ballpark - courtesy of a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning that increased his team's lead to 9-0.
Not only was it a big hit for Downey, but it was the Baylor signee's 13th deep ball of the season - setting a new program single-season record.
"He was doing what he does," junior Dakota Basham said of his teammate's accomplishment. "Davion's done the same thing his entire life; just hits hard balls, gets home runs, gets base hits, gets runs."
The Raiders struck first in the bottom of the first on Matt Alford's RBI single. With the bases loaded after Basham, Ty Stringfield and Hawks all reached, Alford's hit plated Basham from third and gave Warren East a 1-0 lead.
That advantage doubled in the third, as Downey led off with a double and Ty Stringfield singled to set up Hawks. Hawks connected on a pitch down the middle for a fielder's choice at second, which scored Downey from third to make it a 2-0 contest.
Basham's double in the fifth gave the Raiders another run. With Austin Hymer on second after leading off with a single and then advancing to second on a balk, Basham crushed a ball to the left field wall and plated the baserunner to push the advantage to 3-0 entering the sixth.
East's offense exploded in that inning, scoring six runs off four hits to increase its lead to 9-0 - where it would remain.
"That last inning where we scored six, we were just wanting one," noted Sanford. "We don't ever want a grand slam to beat us and that's what we were actually going to play for was one run. That was important to us ... and it actually turned out to be a huge inning. It was great."
Alford reached on an error to begin the frame and Dakota Campbell followed up with a walk to give the Raiders a pair of runners. Clutch hitter Chauncey Greer - who went 2-for-3 on the night - singled soon after and then Ty Colson got on with a fielder's choice.
Although the Gators recorded that out, Austin Hymer and Basham tallied back-to-back RBI singles to make it 5-0 before Downey cleared the bases with a crushed ball over the wall in right field to set the new record and put Greenwood away for good.
"It was pretty special to see (Downey's hit) with the bases loaded," Sanford said. "He had a really good at-bat. He got down two strikes pretty quick there and just grinded. He's a special hitter and has a lot of power. I'm proud of him and really happy for him."
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WE's Davion Downey (left) and Ryan Hawks (right) pose with District 14 Tournament championship trophy / Photo by Paul Gray[/caption]
Searching for answers, the Gators quickly went three-and-out in their final at-bat as Warren East rushed the field with a bucket full of ice water ready to pour all over coach Sanford.
"It felt great; I gladly took it," he added. "I told those guys on Tuesday night after we beat South (Warren) that I wanted the ice bath. I wanted that ice bath and it felt good."
Warren East now takes its five-game winning streak into the Region 4 Tournament, which begins next Monday at Western Kentucky University's Nick Denes Field. It's safe to say that the Raiders want to continue their success.
"I'm really, really excited," Basham stated. "We're on a hot-streak right now - scoring some runs, getting some hits, playing good defense. There's not much more you could ask for right now."Tyler Mansfield; @TheTMansfield