Raise it high

Seth Benner holds up the 41st District baseball championship trophy while Great Crossing teammates celebrate around him Tuesday night at Franklin County High School. The top-seeded Warhawks defeated the host Flyers for the third time this season, 7-1, to take home the title in their inaugural try.

FRANKFORT — Minor deficits didn’t bother Great Crossing baseball much all season.

As the prohibitive favorite in the 41st District, self-doubt surely wasn’t creeping in at playoff time when Western Hills and Franklin County carved out slim early leads.

“We were locked in,” sophomore right fielder Drake Byrd. “We know our talent. We knew we’d come back.”

Fueled by Byrd’s 4-for-4 afternoon, the Warhawks roared back Monday for a 14-5 semifinal rout of the Wolverines, then wouldn’t be denied Tuesday night against the host Flyers in a convincing title-game triumph, 7-1.

Great Crossing (19-11 overall, 8-0 district) joined volleyball and boys’ soccer (fall 2019) and softball (about an hour earlier) as Warhawk programs to win a district title in their inaugural campaign.

“It feels unbelievable,” senior third baseman and tournament MVP Seth Benner said. “We’ve been working two years now in this program, working every day for it, giving it our all. We’ve been dreaming about this since we started, and it came true today.”

Benner belted his eighth home run of the season to give GC its initial lead in the first inning against Western Hills. 

Jacob Tirlea’s RBI double broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the third, and singles by Byrd and Colin Nicholson further stretched the lead.

Nicholson also scored three of GC’s seven runs in the title game, including the tying tally after his leadoff double in the third. Later that inning, Benner put the Warhawks in front to stay with a line-drive single to left.

“It got us a little more focused that we had to go do our thing, our way, our level, and good things happen,” Great Crossing coach Greg Stratton said of the capital city schools drawing first blood in each game. “We’ve been fighting two years for that one, and this long season as well. They battled through. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Nicholson, Jacob Tirlea and Beniam Bond each had two hits against Franklin County (9-21, 3-5). GC stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fourth when Tirlea led off with a double, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Grant Stewart’s sacrifice fly.

“I knew we were going to get the lead, because we always do,” said junior pitcher Logan Adkins, who scattered six hits over six innings.

An error and a walk opened the floodgates to three more runs in the fifth. Bond singled to load the bases ahead of Benner’s sacrifice fly. After a walk by Peyton Harris, Tirlea’s seeing-eye single to right plated a pair.

It was ample support for Adkins, who struck out eight and stranded six Flyers on base.

“He was in the zone most of the night, and he has been consistently in the last few outings that he’s had,” Stratton said. “He’s been able to get that breaking pitch going, his off-speed, and that makes the fastball look even faster. It had a little movement on it tonight too. When he can do that, he’s effective.”

Micah Mullins issued three walks, one intentional, to create a jam in the seventh. He coaxed a grounder to Stewart at shortstop, however, and a flip to Bond at second and quick turn to Tirlea at first produced a game-ending double play.

Brady Hockensmith had three hits including a double for Franklin County, which lost 16-3 and 18-5 to Great Crossing in April.

Byrd and Benner combined for seven of GC’s 16 hits against Western Hills (8-21, 2-5). Nicholson, Harris and Aidan Foster each added a pair. Benner, Byrd, Foster and Matt Lacy all notched two RBI.

Warhawks’ ace Cole Traylor departed with a 10-3 lead after four innings in which he gave up four hits and only one earned run while striking out six.

“Cole threw great. He was really on it, and Logan threw unbelievable too,” Benner said. “They competed really well. We couldn’t ask for a better job from them.”

Adkins, Byrd and Nicholson joined Benner on the all-tournament team.

Great Crossing will host Frederick Douglass in the 11th Region quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday. 

kal oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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