CARTERVILLE — Bryce Anderson saved his best pitch for his last pitch.
The Carterville senior reared back for one final fastball Monday, slipping a called third strike past Jon Tate with the potential tying runs on base to finish off a 2-0 shutout of Benton that gave the Lions a Class 2A regional title.
“It’s 100 percent amazing,” Anderson said.
The six-hit shutout propels Carterville (12-4-1) to a sectional semifinal matchup Wednesday at fellow SIRR Mississippi member Nashville, which bumped off Pinckneyville at home to win a regional crown Monday. The Rangers finish the season at 16-11.
The game’s ending was a fitting denouement for both teams. Anderson spent most of the game working in and out of jams, denying Benton the big hit it seemed on the verge of getting more than once. The Rangers stranded 10 runners, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“We left runners in scoring position in each of the last five innings,” said Benton coach Brett Blondi. “But you have to tip your cap to Carterville and Anderson. The young man made big pitches when he needed to. We have to capitalize on those opportunities. We just didn’t do it.”
How Anderson ended the game was notable on many levels. Tate was going to be the final hitter he faced one way or the other. Anderson reached 105 pitches when he sailed ball three up and in to Tate. Had Tate reached base, Anderson was coming out by rule.
Then there was the decision of what pitch to throw on 3-2. Lions coach Bobby Jackson usually calls the entire game for his pitcher. But he trusts Anderson’s judgment more than the average pitcher.
“He’s been with me seven years, counting the three in junior high,” said Jackson, who also guides Carterville’s junior high team. “He was a volunteer assistant this fall for me on the junior high team. He’s a baseball person.”
Which is why Jackson loosened the reins a bit for Anderson. If Anderson feels strongly about a particular pitch in a certain spot, Jackson gives him the autonomy to call it. The 3-2 pitch to the Rangers’ cleanup hitter with the game and season at stake was that time for Anderson.
“I can’t describe how it makes me feel,” Anderson said of having the freedom to call his pitch. “Coach likes to call the game his way, but it’s nice to be trusted.”
Admitting that his arm felt a bit sore and that he was tired, Anderson found enough strength to buzz a fastball on the inside corner, about belt-high. The umpire chain-sawed his arms back and forth as the Lions celebrated.
Anderson’s fatigue was clear in the seventh. He walked Dillon Poe and Mitch Giacone with one out, but got Kanon Cantrell on a flyout to center before winning the last duel with Tate.
Another Cantrell fly ball to center in the third provided Braden Ingle with the forum to make a game-changing play. A full dive to Ingle’s left resulted in a great catch that likely cost Cantrell the two runs that would have knotted the score.
Poe just about matched Anderson pitch for pitch in an efficient 88-pitch performance. The only blemish came in the second when he missed over the plate with an 0-2 offering to Drew Pestka. The ball banged off the left field fence for a double that scored Matt Wallace and Ingle.
From there, it was all about Anderson making the big pitches to protect the slender lead down to the 21st out.
“Once I made it through the first jam,” he said, “I just kept telling myself I could get out of the next one.”