In true Eagles fashion, strong pitching from juniors Noah Cook and Will Strode and a timely triple from sophomore Sam Holder propelled them past Beechwood 3-0 for their first state tournament win in 12 years.
The Tigers threatened first, as a one-out single from junior Michael Detzel was the first hit of the night in the bottom of the first—later advancing to third on a two-out single to center from senior Ben Meier. Junior Noah Cook was able to bear down on the mound for Apollo though, getting eighth grader Tyler Fyman to strike out looking to send things into the second tied at 0-0.
Neither team could get anything going offensively through five either, as senior Matthew Kappes and Cook had things scoreless going into the sixth.
The Eagles came alive in the top of the sixth though, starting with an infield single by sophomore Garrett Lanham. After stealing second Lanham advanced to third on a passed ball, before nearly getting caught in some trouble.
A steamer to third from sophomore Grayson Smith led to Garrett getting in a pickle, but he managed to slide back into third safely while Smith got to second. Apollo then easily had its biggest threat of the night, as junior Will Strode was walked to load the bases with no outs.
However, a baserunning error by Lanham led to a force at home the following at-bat, with a liner to left from senior Easton Blandford keeping runners at bay with two outs. But as he has multiple times this postseason, sophomore Sam Holder came through.
Holder lined one into the left-center gap, as it rolled all the way to the wall and allowed him to grab third for a triple and a 3-0 lead for Apollo going into the bottom of the sixth.
“I was just looking for a ball right there that I could just piece in the gap,” Holder said. “That’s what I was hoping for and that’s what I got… Just taking extra reps [has helped]. I don’t know. Just like a switch turned on really.”
The end of the inning would also mark the end of Kappes day, having allowed three earned runs on three hits and a walk while striking out a pair in six innings pitched.
Eighth grader Ty Lillpop flew out to end the inning, but the Eagles flew right back to the plate with another quick 1-2-3 inning from Cook—sending Apollo into the seventh with a 3-0 lead over the Tigers. After a quick inning at the plate Cook hit the first batter he faced in the bottom of the seventh, thus ending his day on the mound.
He ended up grabbing the win in his six-inning start, having allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out four on the night. Head Coach Brandon Dennis was proud of his pitcher’s resiliency, delivering a performance that he feels embodies the player that Cook is against arguably the best offense Apollo has faced all season.
“To be in the position he was in after two innings with nearly 60 pitches,” Dennis said. “If you would’ve told me he was going to throw a single pitch in the seventh or in the sixth, I would’ve told you you were crazy. But that tells you who he is. If you want to know who Noah Cook is, that’s who he is. He’s the guy he’s going to scrap and fight and claw and find a way… He found a way to work the counts, to pitch to contact a little bit and get them to put it in play and let us make some plays.”
Noah said that the Eagles they would be facing a potent Beechwood offense, so he had to trust his eight teammates in the field to make the plays behind him and it paid off in spades.
“We knew coming into the game that they were a really good hitting team, so I was going to pitch backwards to them just to let them beat the ball into the ground and pop it up,” Cook said. “But as the game went on and I was fatiguing, I was just like get it over the zone and let my defense do the work for me. And that’s what happened.”
Strode proceeded to strike out the first batter he faced in relief, but a walk put runners on first and second with one out. The righty was able to get a fly out to right the following at-bat though, with a one-hopper from eighth grade right fielder Ty Lillpop keeping the runners at bay with two down.
This did however bring up one of the best hitters in the state in Beechwood senior Cameron Boyd, having posted a .516 batting average with 12 home runs, 50 RBIs and 30 stolen bases on the year coming into the game. But four pitches later Strode was able to strike Boyd out swinging, giving Apollo its first state tournament win since 2011 at 3-0 over the Beechwood Tigers.
“To strike out the best hitter in the state to end the game,” Dennis said. “It doesn’t get any better than that… The whole time we were thinking we could hopefully keep him from coming back to the plate one more time—and I don’t mean to draw it out on him because that kid is unbelievable. I’m saying ideally we don’t ever get back to him. So to get back to him and for it to end the way is [just] unreal.”
Dennis said that the game was played the way they wanted it to on Thursday night, as Apollo continued to battle, make plays and put up crooked numbers throughout the night to come away with a huge win.
“That was an Apollo Eagle baseball game,” Dennis said. “We couldn’t have drawn it up any differently and it fits what we do perfectly. Our pitchers keep us in it until we find a way to scratch and claw… I would’ve been happy to come away with two there, but to get a bases-clearing triple was just the icing on the cake. It gave us enough of a cushion that we felt good going into the last inning.”
Now the Eagles will have a day to rest before returning to action, prepared to have Strode start on the mound after a nice tune-up on Thursday. They’ll have their work cut out for them once again, needing to execute the little things once again in order to top Lexington Catholic at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“We know that either one of them will be one of the better teams we’ve played all year long,” Dennis said. “We can’t change anything based on what we see. We’re going at it the same way no matter who we play. We’re where we want to be with pitching and all we can hope is that we continue to get that good defense and timely hitting and we’ll be in good shape.”