When Beckman’s Owen Huehnergarth ripped a two-strike, bases-loaded single to the right-field fence in the ninth inning, he delivered a victory to his Blazer teammates, 3-2, over a scrappy team of Rebels from Northeast.
The Blazers had packed the bases with Luke Schieltz’s base hit to right, Nick Schmidt’s walk and Nick Offerman’s bunt. Rebel reliever Sam Moraetes delivered a ball, two fouls and another ball to Huehnergarth before he tagged the game-winner all the way to the right-field fence. Schieltz scored to make it 3-2 and the celebration was on, near the shortstop position in the infield, as Huehnergarth rounded second and was mobbed by his team.
“That’s something I always dreamed about when I was young,” said Huehnergarth, “like every ballplayer. Being at bat with bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and winning the game with a walk-off hit. I knew we had it even though I didn’t really know how far the ball went. Schieltz was on third and it didn’t have to be a long ball for him to get in. It was an opportunity and I took it. It felt totally amazing and was so much fun when the team came out to the field.”
For a good portion of the evening, the Blazer faithful was holding onto a dwindling hope that the team could pull this one out. Rebel starter Cade Hughes held them to just six hits, typically with two outs on the board, with most of their others going directly to a fielder. He delivered just two walks, “making it necessary we get a lot of hits to get on base,” said coach Fred Martin. “It was crazy, to the point of I was trying to think what I would tell these guys after the game.”
But in the bottom of the seventh, trailing 2-0, the Blazers mounted their comeback. Jackson Oberbroeckling led off with a long double to center and pinch hitter Logan Burchard dribbled one back to Hughes. When he couldn’t decide whether to throw to second or first for the out, the delay made both runners safe and was a key mistake on his part. Both later scored and tied the game. Luke Sigwarth successfully bunted to load the bags and Schieltz drilled a base hit to center to plate Oberbroeckling. Schmidt flew out to right and Offerman flew out to center, far enough to plate Burchard for the tie. The Rebels intentionally walked Huehnergarth and took a strikeout from Nate Offerman to end the inning, but the damage was complete, forcing more baseball and taking Hughes out of the game.
Blazer reliever Bryce Boekholder fanned the first batter in the eighth but gave up a base hit to Caleb Gruhn. When Hayden Lee drove it to third, Schmidt fielded and sent the ball to second to Sigwarth, who fired it to first for the inning-ending double play. The Blazer dugout erupted.
In their half of the eighth, Boekholder opened with a six-pitch walk and his courtesy runner, Max Mullis, stole second. Oberbroeckling looked to successfully bunt but was ruled to have contacted the ball in the base path for the automatic out. Burchard and Sigwarth flew out to end that threat.
Boekholder delivered a ball to the first batter in the ninth that was bobbled in the Blazer infield. Then Curtis Eberhart tapped a bunt, fielded by Schmidt for the out. Boekholder fanned the final two Rebels.
The rest of the game was not as easy as that. In the first, the Rebels got on the board with a leadoff base hit from Jimmy Weisphenning, who stole second and third and scored on a double from Moraetes. But starter Nick Offerman shut down the final batter to hold the lead to 1-0.
Stranding runners was the name of the game for both teams in the ensuing innings. The Blazers left one in the first, the Rebels two in the second. Oberbroeckling drew a walk in the second but was left standing. That’s the way it went as neither Offerman nor Hughes faced more than four batters until the top of the fifth. In the fourth, the Rebels opened with a threat, getting a base hit. Offerman coaxed the next batter to fly out and fanned the third, and when Huehnergarth picked off the leadoff batter, Clayton Meyerman stealing second, the inning ended. It was one of four on the night that the junior catcher converted.
Huehnergarth commented, “They just kept running on me and I knew we could get them. My fielders did a great job catching the throws.”
That fifth frame saw Offerman give up a walk and a base hit, chasing him and bringing in Boekholder. Kael Parson bunted and Boekholder overthrew first, scoring Weisphenning for a 2-0 Rebel lead. The next batter also drew a walk but Boekholder settled in and fanned the final two.
In the bottom, it was Sigwarth hitting a single to center with two outs on the board, and Schieltz hitting into a fielder’s choice for the third.
The top of the sixth saw Boekholder deal with just three batters, a flyout from the mound to first and two strikeouts. In the bottom it was Nate Offerman’s turn to hit a double and stay where he was when Boekholder flew out.
The top of the seventh saw Boekholder again face just three batters, though he gave up a hit to Weisphenning to open. That threat died when the Rebel tried to steal second and Huehnergarth caught him.
“Probably the biggest play of the game was Nick’s bunt in the ninth. What do you decide to do? Two guys on and a bunt may have worked or it may not, leaving them to walk Huehnie. But Nick got there and it worked and with bases loaded, they had to pitch to Huehnie. Each and every little decision is magnified in a game like that. Even pulling in an outfielder to play third, but Schmidtie has played every spot on the field but first and catcher. He does his job so well every place we put him. We knew he would handle third and he did.”
Four Blazers went 2-for-4 on the night, Schieltz, Nick Offerman, Huehnergarth and Sigwarth, with Schieltz, Offerman and Huehnergarth notching RBIs. Nate Offerman, Burchard and Oberbroeckling added hits. Nick Offerman went four innings, allowing seven hits, two earned runs, two walks and whiffing seven. Boekholder finished the final five frames, giving up three hits, no runs, a walk and fanning six.
“We are such a very, very young team,” added Martin. “It’s been unheard of to start freshmen and sophomores in Beckman ball. But that’s what is happening this year and they are being forced to grow up fast. They are handling it.”