(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
SPRINGFIELD -- In stranding the tying run on third in the top of seventh, Charleston saw its run at the Class 2 state title come to close Wednesday afternoon in a 4-3 loss to the New Bloomfield Wildcats in the Show Me Showdown semifinals at Meador Park in Springfield.
"We had a shot," Bluejays' head coach Michael Minner said. "We had a play set up to try to score a run to play another inning. It just didn't work out for us today.
"But take nothing away from this group. This has been an incredible year. Nobody expected us to be here, but we believed in ourselves and we showed that we belong here at the final four."
Going into the seventh trailing 4-1 and with the top of their line up due to start the frame, the Bluejays were able to close to within two of the Wildcats when cleanup hitter Ethan Browning hit a single to right-center to score Marshall Stallings from third.
In the next at bat, Danny McKinney closed Charleston to within one run of New Bloomfield when a grounder to short scored Trey Watkins from third to make it 4-3.
Moments later, catcher Michael Baugh was able to draw a walk to leave runners on first and third with two outs.
Unfortunately for the Bluejays, that's when things took a turn for the worst.
Trying to push the runner at third across the plate, Charleston decided to send the courtesy runner at first to second in an attempt to get the pitcher's attention.
"It was a designed play to get picked off," Minner said. "And the design tells you to go to second (from first) to get caught in a rundown and E-Bo (Browning) is probably going to score there."
Instead, a throw back to first by the pitcher caught the runner diving back to the bag before Browning could score from third, ending the ball game and the Bluejays title search.
"We tend to relax in the late innings with a lead," New Bloomfield coach Brandon Talbot said. "I'd almost rather have that one run lead going into the seventh instead of three or four run lead.
"But when it comes down to gut check time, the kids respond. We get the out when we need to and finish out the ball game."
Earlier in the game it was a two-run rally in the fourth that gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
Coming back after Charleston had tied the game 1-1 in the previous frame, the Wildcats used a pair of back to back singles to put runners on with no outs.
After a pair of batters failed to advance the runners, No. 7 hitter Daniel Berry hit a shot to right just inside the foul line.
Bouncing off the glove of a diving right fielder, Berry's eventual double gave New Bloomfield just enough time to take a 3-1 lead.
Coming back the next inning, the Wildcats scored what ended up being the decisive run on a ground ball up the middle by Skyler Lucas.
In what was his last start on the mound for the Bluejays, senior James Naile takes the loss throwing six full innings, allowing seven hits and one walk while striking out six.
"I was a little bit all over the place," Naile said. "I think the nerves got to me a little bit. This is just a big scenario. But I kind of came back strong and threw together a few good innings and the defense played well behind me.
"We didn't make any errors, they just hit the ball."
On offense, Trey Watkins led what was a six hit Charleston performance going 2 for 3 with a double. Naile, Browning, Corey Adams and Marshall Stallings also had hits in the effort.
"We had trouble swinging the bats today," Stallings said. "We just couldn't find a hole. They were dumping them in everywhere and we just couldn't get the big hit we needed.
"We left a lot of runners on base, but we went down fighting which is the way to go."
With the loss the Bluejays will now play the Clever Bluejays, who lost to Summit Christian Academy 12-2, today at 10 a.m. for third place.
Charleston 001 000 2 - 3 6 0
New Bloomfield 100 210 x - 4 7 0
WP -- Aaron Bedsworth. LP -- James Naile. SV -- Kolby Odowd. 2B -- (C) Trey Watkins, Corey Adams; (NB) Daniel Berry, Austin Pittman.