SPRINGFIELD — Despite an injury-filled season, the Kenton Ridge High School baseball team is back in the district finals for the first time since 2019.
Cougars senior catcher Keller Fultz went 4-for-4 with an RBI double and senior pitcher Riley Niggemeyer picked up his eighth victory of the season as Kenton Ridge beat Tippecanoe 4-2 in a Division II district semifinal game on Tuesday evening at Tom Randall Field in Springfield.
“Those guys kind of carried us today,” Shaffer said. “I’m happy for the guys because we’ve been through so much this year with all of the injuries. They’ve faced some adversity. We’re kind of battle tested.”
The Cougars (20-6) advanced to face No. 1-ranked Hamilton Badin at 5 p.m. Thursday at a site to be determined.
“It’s good to be back,” Shaffer said. “For these guys to keep fighting and grinding and finding ways to win, I’m happy for them. I’m happy for the seniors.”
Tippecanoe, which beat Kenton Ridge in a district semifinal game in both 2021 and 2022, finished its season 17-13.
Kenton Ridge has had as many as five different starters missing from its lineup throughout the season, including junior Logan Fyffe, junior Caleb Obee, senior Kegin Dotson and sophomore Jake Beard — all of whom played key roles for the Cougars this season.
In the first inning, Fultz singled and scored on an error to give the Cougars an early 1-0 lead.
The Red Devils tied the score in the second inning after a double by senior Josh Dietz scored junior Jaxxon Hill from second base.
Cougars sophomore Zach Deel, Fultz and Obee all singled to start the third inning and cleanup hitter sophomore Braden Smith hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Deel from third base to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.
“He battled to get it to 2-2, fouled off some pitches and almost hit it out,” Shaffer said. “That was a big run.”
Kenton Ridge extended its lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Cougars junior Brayden Grimm and Fultz each doubled to start the inning to make it 3-1. Fultz advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore Braden Smith to make it 4-1.
“Those runs were huge,” Shaffer said. “When runs are hard to come by and you can play add on like that, we were able to give ourselves some room.”
Niggemeyer went 6.1 innings for the Cougars, allowing two runs on five hits with three strikeouts. He improved to 8-0 on the season.
“(Niggemeyer’s) pitch count was high the first two innings, but he settled in,” Shaffer said. “I think he’s been the only (pitcher) all season who hasn’t been down (with an injury). He’s filled that void for us, pitched in the big games and done a good job.”
The Red Devils threatened with bases loaded in the seventh inning. They cut the lead to 4-2 when relief pitcher Jake Beard — who pitched for the first time in three weeks due to an injury — hit freshman Bryce Eckert. Beard struck out the last two batters to seal the victory for the Cougars.
“It was big time,” Shaffer said.
The Cougars advanced to face Badin (26-1), the D-II state poll champs. The Rams have won eight straight games since falling to Fairmont on April 29.
“We feel like we’re playing with house money right now,” Shaffer said. “We’ve got nothing to lose. I think our guys are going to be relaxed and ready to go. We’ll go there, compete and see what happens. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
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