BENTON — For just a moment, it looked like Tanner Bergmann had tied into Isaac Crabb’s fastball and hit it far enough to give Nashville a dramatic game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.
But as the ball soared deep into left field, Crabb wasn’t worried about the possibility of blowing a save and perhaps the Class 2A Benton Sectional title for Harrisburg.
“I know he’s a big kid and big kids are going to hit the ball a long way, but he got jammed because he let the ball get deep,” Crabb said. “I jammed him up just enough, and I knew our outfielders were playing deep, so they were going to get there.”
Moments later, Crabb was proven right. Ben Brombaugh settled under the ball on the warning track, and the Bulldogs dog-piled. The catch secured a 7-5 win that sends them to the Sauget Super-Sectional at 5 p.m. on Monday.
Crabb got the final seven outs in relief to save Noah Boon’s victory, but the star junior was limping around in the postgame celebration. Crabb tweaked his ankle on the final pitch to Bergmann, but said he would be available for the super-sectional game against Teutopolis. The Wooden Shoes won their sectional by an identical 7-5 score over Breese Mater Dei.
It was the 10th sectional title and 803rd win in coach Jay Thompson’s career, but for him, it felt just as good as the first sectional crown.
“They never get old, and the reason is it’s a different group of kids every time,” he said. “It’s really exciting for them. You know, you don’t get many chances to play in these type of games, and if you win one, it’s pretty special.”
The parking lot outside of Eovaldi Field was nearly packed about 20 minutes before first pitch. The Bulldogs and Hornets have been two of the area’s top Class 2A teams for a generation, and they entered the day with a combined 59 wins.
Harrisburg (30-8) announced its presence with authority, though, with four first-inning runs. Boon capped the rally with a booming three-run homer to left-center, giving himself a nice cushion before he ever threw a pitch.
“That gave us quite a bit of confidence,” he said of his homer. “It was huge. I just kept working on things in practice and I bounced back from Thursday. I didn’t have a good first game of the sectional.”
Boon ripped an RBI double up the left-center field gap in the third inning, and Andrew Bittle followed two batters later with a two-strike RBI single through the box for a 6-1 lead. Even in a game featuring two relentless offenses, that put Nashville (30-7) in a serious problem.
But the Hornets haven’t won 30 games three years in a row by capitulating when facing big deficits. They finally got to Boon in the fifth inning. Gavin Baldwin, Bryce Bultman and Kelton Harre each stroked RBI singles to make it 6-4 and force Thompson to insert Crabb.
Nashville wasn’t done yet. Freshman Ian Blazier slapped a leadoff double in the sixth and Cole Malawy cashed him in with a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. The Bulldogs’ five-run cushion was down to a single run.
“We had some nice, clutch at-bats,” Hornets coach Chad Malawy said. “We weathered the storm and came back swinging. They threw some punches early, but we stayed in the game.”
However, Harrisburg tacked on a critical insurance run in the seventh when Javie Beal scored Jack Martin with a sacrifice fly to left. That set the stage for Bergmann’s near-miss and the Bulldogs’ celebration.
It was the 19th straight win for Harrisburg, which hasn’t lost since early April.
“We’re not changing anything,” Boon said. “We’re just playing the ball we know how to play.”