LANCASTER — Fredericktown senior Kaid Carpenter emerged from the dugout Wednesday, walked to the third base line, and stood completely still, facing the outfield.
The game was over. It had ended moments earlier, when Heath pitcher Tannar Patterson struck out his 10th and final batter of the night, delivering the Bulldogs their first district title since 2011 and sending Fredericktown, winners of five straight district titles, home as runners-up.
Carpenter, a three-year starter (his freshman season was canceled due to the pandemic), appeared stunned. This was it – the last time he'd walk off a diamond wearing Fredericktown scarlet and grey. Years of blood, sweat and tears – the dream of heading back to regionals, and maybe going further – put to rest, just like that.
He stood there for about 10 seconds, staring blankly into the distance as the sun began to set over the Fairfield County hills.
In that moment, it's all he could do.
"Our nine seniors have set a standard for us," Fredericktown head coach Ryan Hathaway said. "And, you know, we've been here six straight years. That's not something that happens at a lot of places. It's tough to even get to this point, and I'm proud of them for getting here.
"They left it better than what they found it, and (they'll leave) big shoes to fill next year."
Heath beat Fredericktown, 3-1, on Wednesday at Beavers Field in Lancaster. The Bulldogs (20-8), seeded fifth in the Division III Central District, overcame an early 1-0 deficit to knock off the top-seeded Freddies (25-2), who entered the postseason ranked second in the state after spending several weeks in Ohio's top spot.
The loss brought to an end Fredericktown's winningest season in program history, as the Freddies surpassed the previous record of 24 wins (set in 2012 and matched in 2021) Monday with a 5-4 victory over Liberty Union in the district semifinals.
Fredericktown won its fifth straight Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference title this season, finishing undefeated in league play. The Freddies started the season 15-0, suffering their first and only regular season loss April 27 at St. Francis DeSales, which will play for a Division I district title Thursday.
Heath will face Waynesville in the regional semifinals next Thursday at 5 p.m. at Wright State University's Nischwitz Stadium. The Bulldogs, who finished tied for second in the Licking County League this spring and entered the postseason ranked 20th in the Division III state poll, are one of 16 teams remaining statewide.
"We still have a bunch of young kids. ... We have seven or eight guys that have been starting for three years now, so we knew we were gonna be pretty good. But when you've never been in situations like this, you never know how you're gonna perform. And our guys performed just the way you need to perform," Heath head coach Tom Warren said Wednesday.
"We've been in some big games recently and some big moments, and I told the kids, 'The only way we can get better at big moments is to be in 'em.' And we were in 'em tonight and performed just the way that they needed to. I'm very proud of them.
"You know, any time you win a Central District in baseball, anything can happen after this point. We were fortunate that we got a five-seed. We were fortunate enough to get a bye and then play at home (twice) and make it down here. So hopefully we're just catching our footing now and we'll see how things go."
THE GAME: Fredericktown struck first on Wednesday.
Carpenter singled to center field in the bottom of the first, then stole second base and moved to third on an infield grounder. He scored moments later on a two-out balk, giving the Freddies an early 1-0 lead.
The senior had it clicking on the mound as well. He struck out five of his first six batters, using an array of pitches to stymie Bulldog batters.
But Heath got things going in the third inning. Preston Devito, the team’s seven-hole batter, got on base first with a lead-off walk. He advanced to second on an errant check-back throw to first, and he moved to third on a passed ball to the backstop.
Then, with two outs, Connor Corbett did the honors, sending a line-drive double to the center field fence that plated Devito and tied the game.
The Bulldogs added to their lead in the fourth inning. Cooper Bradley hammered a line-drive single to left field with two outs, scoring Kaden Green from second and giving Heath a 2-1 lead.
And the fifth inning featured more of the same. Again with two outs, Corbett walked, setting up a scoring opportunity as Patterson stepped to the plate. The sophomore did not miss. He sent a shot to deep center field, scoring Corbett from first and sending the Heath dugout into a frenzy.
Fredericktown moved runners to first and second with two outs in the bottom half of the fifth, but could not capitalize.
Carpenter singled to center field, but Heath’s Conner Toomey got a jump on it and delivered a missile home, allowing catcher Paul Gould to tag out Fredericktown pinch runner Logan Hansen well before he reached the plate, ending the inning and keeping the Freddies’ off the scoreboard.
And that was the last time Fredericktown reached base. Patterson went three-up, three-down in the sixth and seventh innings – striking out three batters and forcing three groundouts – to put the game on ice.
He was bombarded on the mound following his final pitch of the night, the Bulldogs jumping with glee as they celebrated their first district championship in 12 years. They tossed their hats in the air, hugged and high-fived as their parents and peers cheered from the stands.
Warren said his team came into Wednesday night fearless. Yes, Fredericktown was ranked at the top of the Division III state poll the entire season. Yes, Fredericktown had won five straight district titles, including two in a row with its current senior class. Yes, Fredericktown was seeded first in the district, while Heath was seeded fifth.
No, the Bulldogs were not deterred.
“We were flying under the radar, you know? We haven't been in this situation,” Warren said.
“That's our 20th win. We're a pretty good team. We didn't get any votes to be in the state polls or any of this kind of stuff. We just go play. And again, (when you have) guys with experience and guys that can throw the ball over the plate, you never know. You may have a chance.”
Patterson seemed to gain strength as the game progressed Wednesday. He surrendered three hits and no walks through seven innings of work, using an array of pitches to keep Fredericktown guessing. Warren said he was most impressed with the sophomore’s command on the mound.
“He struck out 10 guys and he didn't walk any. The times that we've gotten into trouble this year, as a pitching staff, is when we've given guys free bases – when we've walked guys. And we didn't walk any tonight,” Warren said.
“He's on a fresh arm, he hasn't pitched a whole lot this year, and we knew he was gonna perform. We went and watched them play last week and our pitching coach came back and said that he was the guy. And he got him (ready) and it worked out the way we needed it to work out.”
Hathaway credited Patterson for his consistency and his ability to throw strikes in big moments.
“I thought he was probably mid-80s with a good slider, and he mixed up his pitches well. He just was around the zone all day,” he said. “And I thought when he wasn't, he made tough pitches all day. Hats off to that guy. He threw a hell of a game for them.”
Carpenter tossed a complete game Wednesday as well, allowing just five hits. But his margin for error – and that of Fredericktown’s defense – proved to be much smaller, given the Freddies’ offensive struggles.
That’s what Wednesday came down to, Hathaway said: Fredericktown’s inability to get on-base.
“I think the walks kind of hurt us and just defensively ... they might have scored with two outs (every time). And they got a big hit, which is gonna happen,” Hathaway said. “But we just didn't execute as well offensively and didn't get base-runners on.”
MOVING FORWARD: Fredericktown senior Brady Lester, much like Carpenter, appeared stunned following the loss.
The Freddies had been to the regional tournament five straight seasons – and had lost in the semifinals all five times. They were looking to make it back this year and break through, advancing to the regional final round for the first time since 2012.
But it simply was not in the cards.
“(Every year) of our high school careers, we've made it to the district championship and we've won, and we've gone to the regional semis, and it just feels like a tradition. And that was the goal this year,” Lester said.
“Obviously, we wanted to win the KMAC. Obviously, we wanted to do the little things right. But our end goal was to get past this district championship for all the seniors. (This was) the seniors' last ride.
“But, you know, things happen. Heath is a great team and they came out on top.”
Despite Wednesday’s loss, however, Hathaway said this group has plenty to be proud of. Particularly his senior class.
The group won three KMAC titles in three seasons, and made it to the district final all three years, winning twice. Several played basketball for Fredericktown as well, collecting two KMAC titles and two sectional titles in four years on the hardwood.
What made the group special, Hathaway said, was its cohesiveness.
“I just think having that core group really (made it special),” Hathaway said. “You know, having that many guys that have played in different sports together, I think that's the biggest difference. And just that camaraderie that they have.”
The group of seniors that played basketball and baseball together – consisting of Carpenter, Lester, Ben Mast, Xavier Mullins and Luke Bean – developed that chemistry by spending time together on and off the field of competition. They were friends, Lester said, as well as teammates.
“We're a family. We've played sports since we were just barely even tall enough to play,” Lester said with a smile. “We just have that chemistry built up over time, and it's always a blast playing with everybody. We just have a great connection with each other.”
And these seniors were committed to winning, Mast said. They were willing to buy in and make sacrifices to get results.
“We always spent almost every day of the week with each other, and we bought into what (our coaches) preached,” Mast said. “I think we just always held each other accountable.”
Wednesday’s loss hurt, Lester said. But he wasn’t about to let it cloud a historic year, and a storybook high school career.
“This obviously is a very disappointing time right now. But overall, this season – I mean, I couldn't ask for much better. We swept the KMAC, broke the school wins record, and we played great as a team. …” Lester said. “We didn't get it today, but the rest of the season was a success.”