MAHOMET – All eyes were focused on the Mahomet-Seymour baseball field’s second base shortly after 7pm on Monday.
Almost everyone who participated in the Class 3A final between the host and second-seeded Bulldogs and third-seeded Centennial waited in anticipation to see the result of an integrated game.
Would the game continue?
Or would a drought in regional championships be put to rest?
Excluded from the bell party were the play’s three most important athletes: MS senior shortstop Will Sampson, Bulldogs senior second baseman Andrew Norman and Chargers senior Danny Lack.
Sampson simultaneously struck down and bubbled a good hit ball from Centennial sophomore Brody Stonecipher. Norman hurried to cover the second base with a lack of carrying on him.
Bare feet from the bag, Sampson lunged at the ball and desperately shoveled it in Norman’s direction. Lack broke into a slide and forcefully put his right foot into the rubber.
A real bang-bang game that requires a conversation in two seconds.
In this case, a burning front pump of the nearest judge right fist.
Thus, MS Centennial held 2-1 in an exciting playoff, lifted the Bulldogs (15-10) to their first regional trophy since 2009 and left the Chargers (13-14) shell shocked well after the final.
“They said at the beginning of the year that they wanted to be regional champions, and we said they had a great opportunity,” said MS coach Nic DiFilippo, who was in charge of the program under the last regional title. “There are times we could give in, and we did not.”
The end of the game played out two separate emotional waves.
Sampson gave Norman a fraternal push and threw the glove aside before jumping into the air with Norman for a half-hug while his teammates flooded around them.
Lack tore the helmet from his head in disbelief and knelt down in the dirt before returning to the excavation with raised palms. Chargers coach Sam Flowers called for the trio’s attention, but did not receive it as the Bulldogs’ celebration continued.
“We did not want it to end this way. We thought we could have gone a little further, ”said Flowers, Centennial’s first year leader. “We fought with tooth and nail.”
Of course, there was much more to this game than the final game. MS sophomore Blake Wolters and Chargers senior Walker Smith engaged in a pitcher duel that saw each starter pack make just one key mistake.
The Smiths came first when Bulldogs senior Nate McFall smashed a two-out, two-run homer to the left field in the third inning to give MS a 2-0 lead.
“I put fastball because I was down 0-1,” McFall said. “I saw the fastball and I turned my hands on it and let it go.”
That marked McFall’s second home run of the season. His first was in M-S’s regional semifinal victory over Decatur Eisenhower on Friday.
“Finally,” McFall said. “It just feels good to finally make it go. That’s what I should have done all season. ”
“He has struggled a bit this year, and he stepped up,” DiFilippo added. “He called a beautiful game behind the plate, hit the big two-run homer, and it was just great to watch.”
Yes, McFall also captured Wolters’ complete three-hitter game that ran against Smith’s complete game seven-hitter.
Wolter’s assault occurred minutes after McFall’s home run, as Centennial senior Tyler McClure pulled a home run over the left fence to lead the fourth inning and trim Centennials’ deficit to 2-1.
The Chargers did not experience much success against Wolters otherwise, adding a turn and a base runner by mistake to their offensive production.
“He’s got one of the ugliest layoffs I’ve ever seen,” McFall said, “and his fastball is electric.”
Flowers praised both pitchers despite his team coming out at the wrong end of a narrow result.
“Wolters on their side, he’s a bulldog all the way, through and through,” Flowers said. “We had our ace out there, Walker. He’s a freaking bulldog. I want to throw him at anyone. … Regional championship game, you want good baseball, and I think it was good baseball. ”
The teams also shared some potentially game-changing moments in the last three innings.
Wolters were picked out of third base at the bottom of the fifth after a suicide press from junior Chase Wagers went wrong.
Smith was then picked out of first base on top of the sixth with McClure on the plate. Half an inning started with Norman dropping an influence pop plane from senior Seth Gossett.
And MS could not take advantage of a second and third, one-out situation at the bottom of the sixth when second-year Carter Johnson’s lineout led to senior Zac Carr being doubled by second base.
“It was back and forth,” DiFilippo said. “Every time they made a play, we made a play.”
McFall credited a huge amount for pressuring MS.
“The student section helped us a lot (Monday) when the emotions changed,” McFall said. “The student section helped us keep the whole game going.”
MS may be able to use the home fans’ support again in the section’s semi-finals.
Either the Bulldogs will visit Springfield (25-5) or host fourth-seeded Jacksonville (17-8) in a game that is currently scheduled for 4.30pm on Wednesday. The Senators and Crimsons calculated their regional final on Monday and will play on Tuesday.
“This is about high school sports,” DiFilippo said of the lively crowd. “We didn’t get Friday night in the fall (with football) or Friday night in the basketball arena, but this is absolutely amazing.”