STEEELEVILLE — The Harold "Hattie" Harmsen Field of Dreams was just that for the second seed Orient Express Post 1961, and a field of nightmares for Murphysboro Post 127, as Orient rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 10-3 Saturday to advance in the winners bracket of the American Legion 25th District baseball tournament.
"We’re going to play Steeleville and they are a good team, so we’re going to have to show up like we did today," said Orient coach Kevin Elko. "We have to put the ball in play and capitalize and make the plays in the field."
Top seed Steeleville Post 480 also advanced to the second round when the Johnston City Buccaneers Club had to forfeit because of a lack of players.
Steeleville (9-4) and Orient (10-6) will play Sunday at 4:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to Monday’s championship game at 7:30 p.m. The loser will face Murphysboro (5-7) in an elimination game Monday at 5:30 p.m.
"We started off well and Seth Daniels was throwing the ball well, but after (the fifth) inning where he ran the bases quite a bit he ran out of gas," said Murphysboro coach Andrew Winters. "Give them credit for being in it the whole time and getting a few key hits after we gave them some base runners."
Every batter in the Orient lineup got a hit, led by Ryan Hopkins with three hits in four at-bats, including two doubles, with two RBIs and two runs scored. Matt Reiger, Gavyn Woolard and Paxton Griffith finished with two hits each.
"We did a really good job at the plate staying patient," Elko said. "We left some runners on base early, but we got some hits when we needed some hits. (Lucas) Wolfe threw a good game and he’s done that all year for us. Ryley House — we had a conversation before his at-bat in the sixth to let it happen and it happened."
House had struck out, flown out and popped out, but with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth he cranked the first pitch out of the park in left center for his first career grand slam at any level to put the game away.
"I don’t even remember what the pitch was," House said. "My coach told me don’t think about it just put the ball in play. He actually said don’t hit out of the ballpark and I let him down on that."
Murphysboro wasted a perfect day at the plate by Corbin Guthman, who went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and a single.
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Wolfe took to the mound in the top of the first and Murphysboro immediately jumped on the left-hander. With one out, his mound counterpart Daniels reached base on a hit up the middle and Trenton Shepard joined him when the third baseman was hit on a 1-2 pitch.
One out later with the runners still at first and second, Guthman lined a 2-1 pitch over the left field fence to give Post 127 the lead.
"That kid has actually had my number — I’ve struggled pitching to him," Wolfe said. "Since high school he’s been hitting me. I left it over the plate for him and he made me pay. Actually him hitting that home run kind of helped me out. It locked me in the rest of the game."
Daniels also got off to a good start pitching around a two-out double in the first inning and a leadoff single in the second, while Wolfe settled down to strike out five of the next six batters to keep the Express in the game.
From the second inning until he was lifted after the sixth, Wolfe pitched around a leadoff single in the third, a leadoff double in the fourth, a one-out single in the fifth and two leadoff singles in the sixth. Wolfe finished with eight strikeouts, no walks and one hit batsman.
Matt Reiger took over the pitching duties in the seventh and struck out the side on 12 pitches.
The Express began its comeback run in the third inning on a leadoff single by the ninth man in the order, Tyson Broy, followed by a one-out double by Reiger. Broy scored on a ground out to short by Hopkins.
The Express cut the lead to one in the fourth inning, starting with Daniels walking Austin Tate with one out. Griffith followed with a double, and Logan Elko drove Tate home on a line drive over the head of the left fielder, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
The Express took the lead in the fifth. After getting away with a leadoff walk, the runner was thrown out attempting to steal second, and Daniels gave up a single to Reiger and an RBI double to Hopkins to tie the game.
One out later Woolard reached base on a single and Daniels walked Tate to load the bases to end his stint. Griffith greeted Ethan Crabtree with a line drive single to right to drive in Hopkins and give the Express a 4-3 lead.