2021 OHSAA Tournament: Division I State Final - No. 11 New Albany vs No. 21 Elder

Dylan Hefflinger and Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Editor in Chief/NW Scout and Senior Writer

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AKRON - Brady Conley was injured the first practice of the year and missed the regular season. But the New Albany senior returned just in time to help the Eagles win a championship.

For the second night in a row Conley came on to close out the game, on Sunday lifting New Albany past Cincinnati Elder 6-5 for the Division I state title.

“Brady has been nothing short of phenomenal,” New Albany coach Dave Starling said. “That young man was on the shelf with a broken wrist, but he sure made up for it.”

Conley entered with one out and runners on first and third with the Eagles clinging to a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the sixth.

“It felt normal for me,” explained Conley. “I like to perform under pressure. Obviously it’s the state championship, but I try to not think about that. I’m used to going into pressure situations. I think it’s a lot of fun. I just went out there and did my normal thing.”

First Conley struck out the Elder three-hole hitter and then, after a steal of second base putting the lead run in scoring position, induced a fly ball to center to escape the jam.

“I just wanted to throw strikes and trust in my defense behind me,” noted Conley, who went on to retire Elder in order in the seventh. “I didn’t want to walk anybody, that was my biggest thing because walks lead to runs. I just didn’t want to do that.”

It helped Elder get back in the game with a one-out single and two walks leading to the four-run sixth by the Panthers.

“Our relief staff got us to this point and got us through tonight,” Starling noted. “They just get it done night in and night out.” 

The bats weren’t too bad, either in bringing home the second championship in school history.

An Oliver Crush triple after singles by Andrew Ecleberry, Eli Henderson and Brock Tibbitts gave New Albany a 3-0 lead in the top of the first and the state’s 11th-rated D-I team added two in the third and one in the fourth after Elder scored one in the bottom of the first.

“We were just trying to keep the same approach and not try to do too much,” explained Tibbitts, who had two hits, scored three runs and drove in one. “Each guy down the line had to do his job and get it to the next guy.”

Ian Hoff had a two-run single in the third following a walk to Henderson and double by Tibbitts, and AC Clouse a bases-loaded walk in the fourth leading to the 6-1 lead.

Elijah Griffith, the first of four New Albany pitchers, allowed one unearned run in five innings to pick up the win, but not without the heroics of Conley in bringing the second state title to the school.

“This whole journey has been breathtaking,” Conley related. “I broke my wrist the first practice of the year and only been back a couple weeks now.It’s just been grinding, but we deserve this. Everyone doubted us, but we knew what we had.”

The loss prevented Elder from establishing an all-time record for championships, while ending the season for the state’s 21st-ranked team at 25-9. 


PLAYER OF THE GAME: Conley gets the nod after throwing 1.2 innings of perfect relief, capping off a one-two-three seventh inning with a strikeout to close out the state-title game victory. In earning the save after tossing a perfect seventh a night earlier in a 6-2 win over Walsh Jesuit, Conley threw 17 of 22 pitches for a strike against Elder.

D-I TOURNEY MVP: Tibbitts was nothing short of spectacular in the two wins, finishing 4-for-8 with four runs scored and four RBIs. In addition, the Indiana commit did his part defensively behind the plate in helping New Albany finish the year on a 10-game winning streak and finish with a 28-5 record.

HOW DOES IT FEEL?: There is nothing like winning a state championship, especially to close out your high school season. Tibbitts, one of seven seniors on New Albany, summed it up: “We’ve been wanting to get here all year, and we’re finally here. I finally accomplished a lifelong goal of mine. It’s hard to describe … but it’s amazing.”

DOGPILE: Conley threw his glove and dropped to his knees, holding his injured left wrist against his body after the final out. “I haven’t been dogpiled yet because my wrist is still messed up. But today it was worth it. I just dropped to my knees and let them jump on me. I knew it was coming. It was just so super exciting and fun.” 

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: New Albany left the bases loaded in consecutive innings in the third and fourth and nine for the game to help keep Elder in the game. But the Panthers had their own issues with clutch hitting on this night, leaving two on in the first - in addition to the sixth - and the bases full in the second with eight LOB for the contest.

NEAR-HERO: Struggling to shut down the potent New Albany bats, Elder turned to right fielder Chris Kammerer to try and save the day and it almost happened. The speedy lead-off hitter threw 3.1 innings of one-hit shutout baseball, fanning one and walking one, retiring 10 out of 12 batters. . 

WHAT’S NEXT?: Three juniors and two sophomores started for Elder head coach Mark Thompson, who had the Panthers at state for the sixth time in his 31 years at the helm and leaves Canal Park with 601 all-time wins, But a strong senior class led by Jackson Grimmelsman and Brennan Martin must be replaced. The cupboard is far from bare for New Albany, which started four 10th-graders and a pair of juniors in the state title game for Starling, who now has 505 career victories.


New Albany     302 100 0 - 6 7 2
Elder                100 004 0 - 5 6 2

Records: New Albany 29-5, Elder 25-9

Winning Pitcher: Elijah Griffith (5 innings, 1 runs, 0 ER, 2 hits, 6 strikeouts, 3 walks). Other: Caden Robinson (0.1 innings, 3 runs, 2 ER, 0 strikeouts, 2 walks), Andrew Trybus (0 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 strikeouts, 2 walks), Brady Conley (1.2 inning, 0 runs, 0 hits, 2 strikeout, 0 walks).

Losing Pitcher: Kellen Sandhads (2.2 innings, 5 runs, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks). Other: Chris Kammerer (3.1 innings, 0 runs, 1 hit, 1 strikeout, 1 walk), Jacob Flaherty (1 inning, 1 run, 0 ER, 1 hit, 0 strikeouts, 2 walks).

Leading Hitters: (New Albany) - Andrew Ecleberry single; Eli Henderson single; Brock TIbbits single, double; Oliver Cush single; Ian Hoff single; AC Clouse single. (Elder) - Chris Kammerer single; Luke Vaughn single; Zak Schlachter single; Brian Weber single; Kevin Hilton single; Marco Sabato single.


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