METROPOLIS — Moments after the out that clinched a SIRR Ohio baseball title for Harrisburg, the Bulldogs unleashed a celebration bordering on the blasé.
Fist bumps, handshakes for the Massac County team they blanked 12-0 on Tuesday, and then a quiet speech from an assistant coach while head coach Jay Thompson talked with a TV station and a sportswriter.
Either these young pups are too young to realize what they did – they won a conference title with exactly zero seniors – or they are looking at this as just the first step in what they believe will be a long postseason run.
“This team can go as far as we want to,” said shortstop Will Gibbs. “We’ve just got to work for it. I have high hopes for this team.”
There’s good reason for Gibbs and Harrisburg to feel like this won’t be their only clinching win of any kind this spring. In upping their record to 18-8 overall and 7-2 in the conference, the Bulldogs stretched their winning streak to seven games.
They also hit double figures for the fifth straight game – in runs. And Tuesday’s outburst was their lowest run total in that span. Their previous four games looked like a Colorado Rockies homestand – 22, 17, 19 and 14.
“We are really swinging the bats right now,” Thompson said. “And we are fast. We have a lot of kids that can run. We put pressure on the other teams and right now, it’s really going our way.”
It’s starting at the top with Gibbs, who on Tuesday did something rare for him lately. He made an out, flying out to right to end a 10-batter, five-run first inning that effectively decided the game before the Patriots (6-12, 3-6) got to the bat rack for the first time.
Gibbs’ other three at-bats went like this: Line drive single to start the game, 2-run single up the middle in the third, line drive single to right to start the fifth. That’s three hits, giving him 12 in his last 14 at-bats.
“I’m staying short,” he said of his approach. “My swing was long at the beginning and I was trying to do too much. I’m trying to stay up the middle of the field and find the barrel. I like to watch a lot of videos of the big league guys because they obviously know what they are doing.”
So does third baseman Javie Beal, who did Gibbs one better. Beal went 4 for 4 from the sixth spot in the order, capping his big day with a three-run double in the fifth that helped Harrisburg end this one two innings early.
Beal used every part of the field, starting his day with a perfect push bunt down the third base line in the first for a single and then stroking liners up the middle in his next two at-bats.
“Between (Gibbs) and Javie Beal, I haven’t seen them make two or three outs in the last week,” Thompson cracked.
Given all that support, Bulldog righthander Isaac Crabb generated a performance that would have won with one run of offense. Crabb scattered six hits in a complete game outing, walking two and fanning six. Working at a breakneck pace, Crabb sometimes threw a pitch three seconds after getting the ball back from his catcher.
While Harrisburg looked ahead to what the postseason might bring, Massac County coach Pat Clark tried to sell opportunity to his team after they absorbed their second one-sided loss in 24 hours. The Patriots, which were routed 11-1 at West Frankfort on Monday, didn’t come close to slowing down a red-hot opponent.
“We still have 15 more games left plus the postseason,” Clark said. “Clearly, the first half of the season hasn’t been what we wanted it to be, but I believe we’re a much more capable team than what we’ve shown. Can we find that effort and energy day in and day out?”
The team which walked off Massac County’s field with a conference title sure has.