BENTON — The only thing Cody Bauza did better than hit Saturday was tackle.
The Nashville catcher laid out his pitcher, Austin Anderson, with a perfect form tackle in front of the mound shortly after right fielder Andrew Kash hauled in the last out of an 11-2 win over Carterville for the Class 2A Benton Sectional championship at Eovaldi Field.
“We rehearsed it in the dugout the inning before,” Bauza said with a sly grin. “I told him, ‘I’m coming after you.’”
It was a perfect ending to an almost-flawless game for Bauza and the Hornets (30-6). Bauza went 4-for-5 with a homer, two doubles and four RBI. He came within a triple of the cycle, getting thrown out at third in the seventh as he tried to stretch his second double into three bases.
The morning started in ominous fashion for Bauza. He left his bat in the trunk of a teammate’s vehicle and had to borrow a bat. Consider Bauza’s old bat Wally Pipp-ed.
“Yeah, I’m going to use this bat in the super,” he said when asked his choice of bat for Monday’s super-sectional against Teutopolis at GCS Park in Sauget.
No matter which bat Nashville swung Saturday, it was packed with power. The Hornets collected 16 hits off three Lions pitchers, 14 in the last four innings. Seven went for extra bases, including a three-run homer in the sixth by Brogan Kemp to make it 9-2 and extinguish the last shred of life Carterville possessed.
Making the outburst even more impressive was that Nashville roughed up senior righthander Kaleb Vaughn, who shut it out during the regular season. Vaughn was touched for nine hits and six runs over five-plus innings and 102 pitches, walking two and striking out three.
“I thought our hitters had a nice approach to him,” Hornets coach Chad Malawy said. “We were able to string together a bunch of hits. You get 16 hits, you ought to be able to win a sectional game. We haven’t had 16 hits in the last four games.”
Nashville broke things open in the fourth with five runs. Hayden Heggemeier and Bauza capped the rally with consecutive doubles, Bauza’s plating two for a 6-0 lead that carried the finality of a QED at the end of a geometry proof.
That’s because Anderson (8-1) retired most of his hitters quickly and quietly. He went the distance on just 89 pitches, allowing five hits and two runs with a walk and four strikeouts.
It wasn’t the ending the Lions (18-7) desired, but it was still a season that exceeded most expectations. Few felt they would still be playing on Memorial Day weekend, a fact not lost on coach Bobby Jackson.
“You don’t let two hours determine what you accomplished this spring,” he said. “If you told us at the end of February that we’d play in a sectional championship, we’d take it.”