BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – Pitching, defense and speed. The Cedar Crest baseball team is built for the long haul.
It’s also built for the short term, like a two-week, 16-team tournament bracket.
On Monday afternoon, the second-seeded Falcons opened play in the District Three Class AAAA postseason with a 3-1 victory over Cedar Cliff. The Falcons used their team speed to scratch out runs, played soild defense and got a strong outing from senior ace Logan Fullmer.
Following a somewhat timid start, Cedar Crest got a key two-run double from Garrett Getz in the third inning. Then the Falcons turned things over to Fullmer and reliever Cameron Mathis.
With the win, Cedar Crest, now 18-4 overall, moved into Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Class AAAA playoffs opposite tenth seeded South Western, which improved to 14-7 with a 3-0 win over Solanco. The site and time have yet to be determined.
Cedar Cliff, the number 18 seed, ended its campaign with a 10-12 mark.
“Overall, I’m very pleased,” said Cedar Crest head coach Chris Groff. “The kids played great. We got clutch pitching, clutch defense and clutch hitting. Against that type of quality pitching (Cliff starter Jeremy Charles), it’s what we like. It doesn’t mean we’re going up there and ripping it. But we’re going to do some things against it.
“They (his players) were ready,” Groff continued. “We feel like we have a system in place. The guys were ready. Logan (Fullmer) was ready. I thought our guys were ready to go.”
The Falcons’ readiness was not apparent in the early innings.
Though he did settle down significantly, Fullmer surrendered a first inning run on a lead-off double, two walks – one of which was intentional – and a hit batsman. Fullmer also allowed a pair of base runners in both the second and third innings.
But thanks to a pair of nifty double plays, Fullmer and Mathis faced the minimum number of Colts over the final three-and-a-third innings. In his six innings of work, Fullmer allowed four hits and five walks, and struck out five.
“I scouted Cedar Cliff on Friday and I got a feel for how they play the game,” said Groff. “They’re (the Colts) chatty and I knew Logan was going to get momentum as the game went on. He’s a winner. He’s a gamer. I knew it (Cliff’s chatter) wasn’t going to phase him.
“The key for Logan is the location on his fastball,” added Groff. “He’s a power pitcher, but he doesn’t try to over power people. He’s trying to go hard and low. He’s a power pitcher who locates his fastball.
“Cameron’s been our closer. That was his seventh save of the season. I know Logan wanted to finish. He had a high pitch count, and I thought if he allowed a runner in the seventh I was going to go get him. But I didn’t tell him that.”
After six of the Falcons’ first eight batters struck out, nine-hole hitter Mike Wealand gave Cedar Crest a spark with a one-out infield single in the third. Galen Rader followed with a walk, then Getz ripped a drive into the gap in right-centerfield that scored both teammates.
“You sensed it,” said Groff of his club’s offensive insecurities. “We give up a first-inning run, and he’s (Charles) a good pitcher. But we did have some action in the first inning. And Mike Wealand’s slow roller was a key part of the game.”
Cedar Crest opened a two-run cushion in the bottom of the fifth. Rader singled, was sacrificed to second and scored on Zach Smith’s two-out safety.
“He’s a very good pitcher,” said Groff of Charles, who fanned a dozen Falcons. “He throws hard and has a nasty breaking pitch. You feel out of his hand that it’s a fastball, and it breaks.
“We feel like we’ve got to go 1-0,” Groff concluded. “I don’t even know who we play on Thursday or how many teams go to states. We’re at the point of the season where we’re going to accomplish something or not accomplish something. We’re just going to try and go 1-0 on Thursday.”
The top three Class AAAA finishers in the District Three playoffs advance to the state tournament.