Airport completed a 3-0 run to the District 5 championship with a 5-1 victory against Manning on Friday and secured a place in the Elite Eight of the baseball postseason for the first time in eight years.
The third-ranked Eagles, who stand at 23-3 after winning four games last season, open the Class 3A Lower State championship tournament at home on Monday.
“It’s been a fun ride, and we want to keep it going,” said Forrest Arnold, one of four seniors on the roster and the winning pitcher in the title game.
Coach Tim Perry opted to use No. 3 starter Arnold instead of ace Austin Hawley, who last worked in the district opener on April 26.
“Austin was well rested, but it was Forrest’s turn and I felt he deserved to get the ball with the chance to clinch it,” he said. “Now, our rotation is lined up perfectly for Lower State.”
Arnold upped his record to 5-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.12, but did not have any easy innings. The Monarchs banged out 10 hits and had runners in scoring position in every inning but the seventh after taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
“I had to make some good pitches a couple of times, and the team had my back in the field,” said the lanky right-hander.
Manning had two hits in the first and got on the board first on a double by Jamal Keels and a RBI single by Justin McArthur. But the Monarchs also ran themselves out of a potential big inning, courtesy of Airport catcher Caleb Morris, who threw out two would-be base stealers.
The Monarchs had two runners on base in the second, a one-out double in the third, a one-out triple in the fourth and a leadoff double in the sixth — all to no avail.
In the second, fourth and sixth, Arnold quelled the threats with inning-ending strikeouts. He was saved in the third by third baseman Caleb Talton, who ranged far to his left to spear a sharp grounder before wheeling to throw out Rashad Hilton at the plate.
Airport responded to Manning’s quick lead with a two-spot in the bottom of the first. Casey Parker reached after being plunked by McArthur’s first pitch, and Jacob Shirey drew a free pass. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Parker raced home on Talton’s infield single. Shirey scored on a grounder by Hawley.
The Eagles put it away with three unearned runs in the sixth. Zach Feaster singled and eventually scored on a two-out Manning error. Talton provided more breathing room with a two-run double, plating Parker and Shirey.