(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Though they fell to Jackson 8-6 in the championship game of the Senior Babe Ruth State Tournament Sunday afternoon, the Charleston Squirrels can take solace in the fact that earlier in the day with their season on the line, they were clutch.
With Jackson having already secured one spot in the regional tournament by advancing to the championship game in the winner's bracket of the tournament, Charleston and Missouri Valley were left to battle it out Sunday, with the winner getting the final slot and a chance to play Jackson in the championship game later that day.
After falling behind 2-0 early, Charleston would rally back tie before pulling ahead in the top of the seventh on a wild play that gave the Squirrels the 3-2 win.
"What a great game," Charleston coach Michael Minner said. "That's probably the best game of the tournament. It was well pitched. Their kid threw his tale off."
Having come back to score two runs in the top of the fifth to tie the game up at 2-2, the Squirrels enter the seventh still looking for a go-ahead run.
Charleston quickly went from no outs to two in the inning when, after the lead-off hitter Brandon Peters singled to center, a botched bunt attempt was popped up and caught, followed by a throw to first to double-off Peters.
On what should have been the third out, Ethan Browning took first on a misplayed grounder by the third baseman.
Next, with a hit-and-run misunderstood to be a bunt-and-run, Jeff Long squared around to bunt. While Long didn't connect, Browning still headed for second and, after a series of missed throws and cut-offs by Missouri Valley, rounded third and came home safely for the winning run.
"It was definitely a crazy play," Browning said. "It was a hit-and-run and when I stole second I saw the ball went in to center so I stole third.
"Then I saw it bounce away again. My legs didn't want to go, but I managed to make it home. That was big for us."
To secure the 3-2 win and a spot in regional, Charleston's starting pitcher Peters went on to throw a hitless bottom of the seventh, forcing Missouri Valley's final batter, Rhett Quinlan, in to a high pop up that Peters would collect himself.
After having to leave a game early on Friday with shoulder troubles, Peters said it was good to get back on the mound.
"I felt great," he said. "I had that little shoulder irritation on Friday, but a little ice and ibuprofen works miracles."
In earning the win Peters gave up two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out two.
"Brandon was tremendous," Minner said. "He gave up two runs in the first inning and it looked as if it could get ugly.
"Then he flat settled down. He was throwing hard in the sixth and seventh innings. He settled in and did a tremendous job in giving us a chance to win."
The win would set up a showdown between Charleston and Jackson for the state title that would take place the same day a little more than four hours after its scheduled start time of 2 p.m. due to thunderstorms.
Playing as the home team in the contest, Charleston would amass a 6-3 lead going in to the fifth, thanks in part to a fourth run fourth.
Swinging momentum in their direction, Jackson would cut the deficit to one in the frame as Ross Carter and B.I. Howard each singled to the outfield, scoring a runner at second to make it a 6-5 ball game.
It was in the sixth that Charleston would see its lead finally slip away when, with two outs and runners on second and third, Jackson's Brandon Bennett hit a grounder to the third baseman to potentially end the inning.
Unfortunately for the Squirrels an errant throw was out of reach for the first baseman, allowing the tying and winning runs to score.
Unable to revive its offense, Charleston would go on to see Jackson add an insurance run in the seventh before coming up in the seventh for its last chance to rally.
Jackson's relief pitcher Howard would hold strong, however, and after seeing the Squirrels lead-off hitter reach on an error, would retire the remaining Charleston batters in order to wrap up the 8-6 win.
"We hit the ball well," Browning said. "But when you let a team like that sit around and linger, they'll come back and beat you because they're a good ball club."
Though they had already locked down a spot in regionals before the championship game, Minner said it would have been nice to keep the Squirrels state title streak alive.
"We really wanted the state championship, don't get that wrong," he said. "We had won three in-a-row and we had a heck of a run, but you know all good things come to an end."
While echoing his coaches sentiments, Browning said he's looking at the bigger pitcher.
"The state championship, that's something you want," he said. "But going to Kansas (for regionals) is the ultimate goal.
"We're going to Kansas, moving on and get to keep playing baseball, so we're where we wanna be."
|Charleston||000 020 1 - 3|
|MO Valley||200 000 0 - 2|
WP -- Brandon Peters. LP -- Grant Davis. Multiple hitters -- (MV) Jordan Crowley 2-3, Jason Luster 2-3. 2B -- (MV) Latavius Shelby. 3B -- (MV) Crowley.
|Jackson||012 022 1 - 8|
|Charleston||101 400 0 - 6|
WP -- B. I. Howard. LP -- Andrew Dooley. Multiple hitters -- (J) Ross Carter 3-3, B.I. Howard 3-3; (C) Ethan Browning 2-3. 2B -- (J) Carter. 3B -- (J) Carter. HR -- (C) Browning.