By TRIBUNE SPORTS STAFF
---- — PLYMOUTH — For the Kokomo Post 6 American Legion senior baseball team, the fifth time was the charm.
Having played — and lost to — Highland Post 180 four times during the regular season, the Sixers finally exacted some revenge by topping Post 180 5-4 in Friday’s Plymouth Post 27 Regional opening round.
“Obviously this feels great,” Post 6 skipper Don Andrews said. “They’re a very good ball team and we are, too. When you play a team of that caliber you have to beat them at some point. I hate that it took five times to do it, but this was the perfect time to do it. You have to come ready to play every day and we did. Our kids were focused and knew this team wasn’t that much better than them. They came out and proved it [Friday] night.”
Kokomo scored its runs early to stake starter Conner Milligan to a 5-0 lead.
The Sixers (18-14) went up 2-0 in the top of the first on Logan Barnes’ two-run home run to left-center. Jesse Broomfield led off the game with a single and moved up a bag on Eli Grimes’ sacrifice before Barnes went yard.
Post 6 pushed across three more runs in the second. Drew Bellus led off with a single and was erased on Tyler Goudy’s fielder’s choice. Jake McMain followed with a single before Broomfield’s infield single loaded the bases. Grimes followed with a walk to plate Goudy. Barnes’ sac fly scored McMain, and Milligan helped his own cause with a single to plate Broomfield and put the Sixers up 5-0.
“Putting five runs on the board in the first two innings was nice to see,” Andrews said. “I thought we’d score more. We had 13 hits but stranded 10, including seven in scoring position. We were getting on base and moving guys around, we just didn’t get those timely hits. That’s part of baseball.”
Milligan (3-4) went 7 2/3 innings to pick up the win. He allowed four runs on 10 hits and four walks. He fanned five. Bellus came on with two outs in the eighth and pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to pick up the save. He allowed three hits and struck out a pair while walking none.
“Conner threw a great game,” Andrews said. “He’s capable of a good game at any time. His form is not the best in the world and he knows that and will work on it. But when he’s on, he’s on, and we knew that early [Friday] night. He had the 7-8-9 hitters up to start the eighth and I told him he’d face them and then come out regardless because I didn’t want [Highland] to see him five times through the order. He got the No. 8 and No. 9 guys out, and we made the change. They were mentally prepared for it and Drew came in and threw well.”
Highland (19-9) scored two runs in the bottom of the second and tacked on two more in the bottom of the seventh. Post 6 was able to hang on for the one-run win despite not scoring over the course of the game’s final seven innings.
Barnes led the way with a homer, a sac fly and three RBIs. His bomb was the only extra-base hit for the Sixers. Broomfield and Milligan both added three singles to the victory cause, while Justin Blevens added a pair of base knocks for Post 6.
Kokomo will play the winner of Friday’s nightcap between host Post 27 and Bristol Post 143 (25-7) at 10 a.m. today. The winner of today’s 10 a.m. game will advance to the championship round, which will be played on Sunday. The loser of the 10 a.m. game will play again at 4 p.m., facing the winner of the loser’s bracket game between the Game 1 and Game 2 losers.