CHARLESTON -- If the Charleston Fighting Squirrels wanted to get to the championship game at the Missouri Senior Babe Ruth Missouri State Tournament they were going to need a little luck and a lot of runs to fight their way out the loser's bracket.
Luckily for the Squirrels they got both on Tuesday as they pulled out a pair of do-or-die games against Boonville and Jackson to advance to their sixth straight title game.
"I think everybody counted us out when we lost Game 2," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "We had the toughest path to get here. We're doing a little bit of everything.
"You just never know what you're going to get and we're getting it at the right times."
Starting their day against Boonville, the Squirrels turned to an unlikely play to get them out of a potential game-tying jam.
It was one that the Squirrels practiced in games throughout the summer -- with mixed results -- and it proved to be the game winner.
With his team holding a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning, Charleston relief pitcher Tim Hillis surrendered a lead off walk before allowing the runner to advance to second with two outs.
After lobbing a few pickoff throws to second to keep the runner close, Hillis faked another throw to the bag with both middle infielders diving for what appeared to be an errant throw into centerfield.
Convinced the ball had gotten away and was rolling toward the centerfielder, the runner took off for third base only to see Hillis appear with the ball. Hillis lobbed to third baseman Dalton Golightly who tagged the runner out to end the game.
"A little trickery never hurt anybody," Minner said. "I've told our guys that play will get us out of a situation that will win a ball game for us and it just won a ball game for us.
"We've been called bush league all year, but we're moving on and it bought us another game. Our kids executed and we did just enough today to get by."
Though risky, the play made good on a two-run Squirrel rally in the bottom of the sixth that gave them their first lead of the night.
Facing a 3-2 deficit heading into the frame, Charleston got a leadoff walk from Paul Fox before a single from Trey Watkins put runners on first and third with one out. Brad Potts tied the game with a line drive that hit the pitcher and plated Fox.
Charleston surrendered its second out on an unsuccessful squeeze play where the runner was caught at the plate only to see Potts come in for the game-winning run on a passed ball in the next at bat.
"We gave it everything we had," Boonville coach Eric Rhorer said. "In the end sometimes luck just falls the other way."
Earlier in the contest Boonville took advantage of a pair of first inning errors by the Squirrels to go up 2-0. An RBI single from Travis Phillips in the second inning closed Charleston back to within a run before Boonville added their final run of the game in the fourth.
A passed ball allowed Fox to score in the bottom of the fourth to make it 3-2 going into the sixth.
After playing Boonville tight the whole way the Squirrels got a little relief when they jumped out to a 7-0 lead against Jackson. Before Charleston could get comfortable, however, Jackson scored five runs in three innings to close to within 8-5.
Holding Jackson at bay Charleston rallied for three final run sin the sixth to make up the 11-5 final.
"I hate to say, but the old team showed up today," Jackson head coach Tracey Wyatt said. "The first two wins we had (in the tournament) were errorless or had just one error.
"We just played good defensive baseball and didn't walk people (in those games) and that's how you win."
Leading Charleston in the win, Ryan Fortner, Jacob Wilson and Trey Watkins had two hits each including an inside the park home run by Watkins.
Now that they've won four straight games, Charleston find themselves needing two wins against Poplar Bluff, who is coming out of the winner's bracket, to secure their fifth state championship.
The first game will start today at 6 p.m. in Charleston at Hillhouse Park and, if the Squirrels can pull out a win, a second and final contest between the teams will start soon after.
"We're not focused on two games tomorrow," Minner said. "We're just focused on winning the first one. We feel like if we win the first one, we'll have a good shot to win the second one. We're going to play them one at a time.
"We're going to bring Foxy (Paul Fox) back (in the first game. He's been good all year for us and we'll have him and Moses on pretty good rest so we feel good about our chances if we play our game."
|Boonville||200 100 0 - 3|
|Charleston||010 102 x - 4|
WP -- Tim Hillis. LP -- Dyllan Crowley. Multiple hitters: (B) Dyllan Crowley 2-3; (C) Brad Potts 2-4.
|Jackson||001 040 0 - 5|
|Charleston||251 030 x - 11|
WP -- Dalton Golightly. LP -- Chris Hartle. Multiple hitters: (C) Ryan Fortner 2-4, Jacob Wilson 2-3, Trey Watkins 2-4. 2B -- (C) Fortner, Tim Hillis. HR -- (C) Watkins.