Airport wrapped up the Region 5-3A baseball championship on Monday with a 3-0 win over visiting Midland Valley.
Caleb Talton was the star in the clincher, throwing a two-hit shutout on the mound and going 1-for-2 with a double and reaching base two times on the offensive side.
“Caleb’s really risen to the challenge all season,” said Airport coach Tim Perry. “He’s grown to relish being in the spotlight and he’s really produced when it’s his turn.”
Talton allowed only three Mustangs to reach base. The senior right-hander issued a walk to the first batter he faced after getting a 0-2 lead in the count, gave up an infield single in the third inning and served up a clean single to center field in the fifth. He responded by retiring seven consecutive batters after each MV hitter reached first base. Talton finished with eight strikeouts and one walk.
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Airport did not have great success against Midland Valley freshman right-hander Wyatt West, but produced enough to clinch the title and snap a two-game losing streak.
No. 9 hitter Kyle Watts, one of four freshman in the Airport lineup, got things going in the bottom of the third by drawing a free pass from West, moved up to second on a bunt by Casey Parker and scored easily on Jacob Shirey’s bloop double down the left-field line. Shirey moved up to third on a ground out off the bat of Taylor Key and raced home on a passed ball.
Talton opened the sixth with a double down the left-field line. Courtesy runner Evan Richardson, another freshman, scored on Austin Hawley’s single through the drawn-in MV infield.
In the end, Airport managed six hits off West. Hawley was the only multi-hit man, going 2-for-3.
Airport’s second region championship season since 2010 has to be considered a surprise. After all, the Eagles were quite young and coming off a 4-13 campaign in Perry’s first season in command.
“I really thought we were capable of turning around last year’s record, even though we were going to be very young,” said Perry. “The key was we had to get production from our four seniors, which we didn’t get last season. The seniors have answered the challenge and the young guys have adapted extraordinarily well to the challenges of playing at the varsity level.”
The bottom line has been the pitching staff led by Talton and Hawley, and solid defensive backing.
“We’ve had the pitching and the defense for the most part all season,” said Perry. “We don’t hit much, but we find ways to score runs when we need them the most. But it’s the pitching and the defense that allows us to be competitive game in and game out.”
Perry also admits the recent two-game losing skid may have come at a good time.
“You never want to lose a game, but at the same time you never know what the effects of being undefeated have on a team, especially going into the playoffs,” said the affable Eagle coach. “Now, we can go into the playoffs relaxed and focused on each game as it comes rather than having the added pressure of keeping a long winning streak going.”
The third-ranked Eagles (19-2, 8-1) close out the region campaign on Thursday at Brookland-Cayce and the regular season on Saturday at home against Richland Northeast.
The Class 3A state playoffs begin late next week.