By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – It’s been quite a week for Levi Hillard and the Whiteford baseball team.
Fresh off a district championship Saturday, the Bobcats knocked off the sixth-ranked Plymouth Christian Academy Eagles Wednesday in a Division 4 Regional semifinal that gets them into the regional championship game Saturday morning at Adrian College.
“He’s having a nice little stretch right now,” Whiteford coach Terry Pant said. “He’s clutch right now.”
Hillard came in the game in the bottom of the fourth to get a key out, then shutout the Eagles the rest of the day. He also slugged a home run over the left field fence that he knew was gone as soon as the ball left his bat. It was the first home run of the season for Hillard, who leads Whiteford hitters with a .411 average coming into the game.
“It felt pretty good,” Hillard said. “I thought it was over.”
Hillard’s blast was a no-doubter. It gave the Bobcats a 7-2 lead at the time. And it came moments after the Eagles loaded the bases against him and he got a called-third strike to get out of a jam.
“I’m used to starting the game or coming in at the top of an inning, so coming in that situation was different for me,” the Whiteford junior said. “I felt good. I just tried to pitch my game and throw strikes at that point.”
Eric Parriett, who is just third on the team in innings pitched for the season, drew the start by Pant. Parriett found out Monday he was going to be the starter.
“I started a couple of games and came in relief a few games,” Parriett said. “I’ve spent the last couple of days preparing. I knew it was a win or go-home kind of day. I didn’t want to go home. I came out with some intensity. At the beginning of the game my heart was beating pretty good. Once we put four on the board, I settled down a little bit.”
Parriett went 3.2 innings. Two walks got him into a jam in the fourth when a Plymouth Christian base hit scored two runners. Hillard came in and got the final out of the inning.
“When I first started pitching it was kind of hot, but once the fourth inning came around, my hands started losing control of the ball and I walked a couple batters,” Parriett said. “You have to embrace it once you get this far. You have to love the energy and we brought the energy all seven innings today.
“It feels amazing to get the win.”
Hillard was coming off a great day Saturday. He got the game-winning hit in the first game, then pitched a no-hitter in the district championship game. He stayed hot Wednesday.
“Coming in from the outfield was a little different, but once I got my rhythm it was good,” Hillard said. “
Whiteford scored three times in the first inning, one in the second and two in the fourth. They finished with a run in the sixth, Hillard’s home run, then scored twice in the top of the seventh, including Carter Ruehle stealing home. Ruehle scored three times.
Shea Ruddy had three hits, Hillard two while Luke Rasor had a run-scoring double. Cole Giesige, Austin Wynn and Luke Masserant had singles and Cooper Ruehle had a double.
“That’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Pant said. “We start out hot, get a jump, then stall a little in the middle. Jumping out to 4-run lead took some tension off Eric.”
Hillard said the 22-9 Bobcats just want to keep things rolling. Whiteford will be aiming Saturday for their first regional title since 2008 when they take on Genesee Christian at 10 a.m. at Adrian College.
“We haven’t been this far in a while,” Hillard said. “It feels pretty good right now.”