After CHS forced extra innings with a run in the seventh, Ward's 2-outs, opposite-field single scores Boon with two outs in ninth for 5-4 victory over St. Joseph: Benton in Hornets Baseball Classic Saturday.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Sophomore right fielder Kam Ward’s 2-outs single down the right-field line drove home senior left fielder Isaiah Boon, who had hooked a 1-out, ground-rule double down the left field line in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday to complete a come-from-behind, championship-winning, 5-4 Chillicothe HS Hornets triumph over St. Joseph: Benton in nine innings in the Hornets Baseball Classic.
Played in glorious springtime conditions at midday, the title game at “June” Shaffer Memorial Park stadium looked ready to be claimed by long-time area power Benton’s Cardinals after they added to a pencil-thin 1-0 lead with three runs in the top of the fifth inning.
However, after the bottom third of the CHS lineup – Konner Sewell, Ward, and Matt Smith – set the table with singles sandwiching a walk, the host Hornets scored three times in their half of the inning, the runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk and then two 2-outs hit batsmen.
While that put the tourney hosts right back on close terms, they still were down 4-3 as they came to bat in the last scheduled inning, kept there by Boon’s exceptional running catch on the warning track in left field that kept at least one run from scoring.
The Hornets (9-8) quickly reversed that backs-to-the-wall scenario as Wes Brandsgaard fisted an opposite-way single through the left side of the infield for a single leading off, Mason Baxter dumped a pop-fly single in shallow center field, and Drew Toedebusch lashed a line-drive single past the second baseman into right-center field to not only tie the game at 4-4, but – with an errant BHS throw – resulted in runners at second and third bases with still no outs.
With the potential walk-off run only 90 feet from home plate, Benton made the obvious and logical choice to walk CHS’ cleanup batter, Jaden Winder, intentionally to create a forceout situation at all bases. While no force play resulted, Cardinals relief pitcher Keigan Hogan steadied, striking out the next two men and sending the championship contest to extra innings on a fly out to right field.
After starting pitcher Toedebusch retired two of the three batters he faced at the start of the eighth, he reached his pitches limit and was replaced on the hill by freshman righthander Mason Baxter with the go-ahead run at second base. Baxter immediately hit the first batter he faced with his first pitch before Toedebusch, switched to shortstop, wisely “ate” a slow groundball for a bases-filling infield hit, rather than risk a wild throw to first on the run.
Now facing leadoff man in Benton’s lineup, the ninth grader surrendered a sharply-hit ball, but it was on the ground and right at second baseman Bradley Riley. As he did on multiple occasions all game, Riley handled it surehandedly and flipped to first for the final out, stranding three Cardinals.
Having missed a chance to win the game in the seventh when it had the bases loaded and no outs, Chillicothe reloaded the sacks via two walks and an error after its first two batters in the eighth were retired, but, on a 3-2 pitch, Hogan got a popup back to himself to send the game to a ninth frame.
In his first full inning, Baxter (1-2) induced a fly out to left field before sophomore Winder, having moved to third from shortstop as part of the pitching change the prior inning, also made a sensational defensive play. He ranged three steps to his right to spear a barely-fair ground ball that just skimmed over the base, gloved it cleanly on the backhand, and, quickly planting his feet for balance, gunned a strike on a line across the diamond to retire the batter by a half-step.
That play grew in consequence when the CHS reliever plunked another Cardinal and the next man singled to left field. Instead of, at worst, the bases loaded with one out, Benton (11-8) had two on, but two out, and Baxter got his team back in the dugout by fanning the next BHS batter. The two Cardinals left aboard raised their total in the game to 11.
The visitors didn’t get a chance to leave any more.
Having been unable to put the ball in play as he was retired his first four at-bats, the righthanded-swinging Boon got out in front of a Hogan pitch that was up and hooked it fair down the left-field line with one out in the CHS ninth, the ball rolling under the wall in foul territory to make it a ground-rule 2-bagger.
A popup to second seemed to have the game poised to enter a 10th inning when Ward – one for three with a walk in his four previous times at the plate – put bat to ball in just the right fashion to send a clean, line-drive single well over the first baseman’s head.
With Boon able to take off at contact, since there were two outs, the Benton right fielder hurrying in and toward the line was under the gun and likely would not have been able to throw the Hornet out at home plate even with a clean pickup and quick throw. However, he briefly missed connections with the ball and, despite a quick recovery, his weakened throw was far, far too late as Boon slid across home plate with the "walk-off" tally and Ward leaped for joy as he watched from near first base.