Columbus catcher Gage Dempsey proved himself plenty capable of hitting with two outs in Thursday’s game against Northside. Thanks to his efforts, the Blue Devils can call themselves subregion champs.
Dempsey’s first two plate appearances came with two outs, and both times he came through in a big way. He knocked in the Blue Devils’ only two runs with a double in the first inning and a single in the third to close Columbus’ regular season with a 2-1 victory.
“It felt great,” Dempsey said. “We just came together as a team and put up a big win. (Northside) played great. It was a real good game.”
Columbus head coach Chad Mathis praised his catcher’s performance, saying the two had a long conversation after Wednesday’s practice. Dempsey was frustrated with his hitting, so Mathis reminded him how he hit well last season. Dempsey, Mathis said, needed to visualize himself as a good hitter and the results would follow.
It certainly worked on Thursday.
“We had two big hits from Dempsey today,” Mathis said. “If you don’t put two good swings on those pitches, we might not be in this situation. I can’t ask for anything more than that, so kudos to him.”
Dempsey’s first-inning hit to start his day helped the Blue Devils (16-11, 11-4) catch up with Northside (13-13, 10-5) after Patriots left fielder Hunter Poe hit a lead-off home run to open the game. With teammate Robbie Tillman standing on third, Dempsey sent the ball rocketing to left field for an RBI double.
Dempsey delivered in his third-inning at-bat under all-to-familiar circumstances. With two outs on the board and Tillman again at third, Dempsey put bat to ball once again, this time reaching first base with an RBI single.
“My whole mindset at the plate was sitting fastball and adjusting (to) curveball,” Dempsey said. “Both of the hits, they were curveballs. I just wanted to square up the ball.”
Dempsey, who went 2-for-3, also saw up close how Columbus pitcher Jonathan Brand handled himself after a rough start to the game.
After escaping a first inning featuring Poe’s home run, Brand settled in and escaped several dangerous situations as the game wore on. Brand pitched all seven innings for Columbus, allowing six hits with one earned run and five strikeouts.
As pivotal as Dempsey’s run-scoring hits were for the Blue Devils, Tillman’s repeated appearances on the base paths were just as valuable.
Tillman, who scored Columbus’ only run in the win over Hardaway on April 6 and hit a walk-off single versus Shaw the next day, opened both the first and third innings of Thursday’s game with singles. He also went 2-for-3 in the winning effort.
“Here lately, he’s come on,” Mathis said of Tillman. “Getting that lead-off guy on first base is just huge. Playing the game the right way today, we got him in scoring position, got him over to third twice and he was able to score that run.”
Columbus enters next week’s region tournament as the top seed from the subregion, with Hardaway sliding into the second spot. Northside’s loss bumped the Patriots to third, with Shaw standing in fourth and Carver in fifth. Play begins on Thursday.
Dempsey sees the Blue Devils’ final win before postseason play as the ideal launching pad as the team preps to make a state playoff run.
“This is a good ending to our regular season,” Dempsey said. “It’s a good end to start on, and hopefully it will push us all the way through.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports