By Mike Myers
LOOGOOTEE - Loogootee saw its chance to repeat as sectional champions end in dramatic fashion as Vincennes Rivet claimed the opening game of Sectional 63 with a 5-4, nine-inning win at Les Page Field on Wednesday.
Trailing 5-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, Loogootee (18-9) scored one run against Rivet reliever Colin Wirth and looked poised to tie the game on a one-out fly ball to right fielder Jackson Niehaus off the bat of Branden Wilz with Casey Miller on third.
But Niehaus made a strong throw to first baseman Zach Templin, and Templin’s relay throw to catcher Gavin Benock cut down Miller at the plate for a 9-3-2 double play to end the game.
According to coach Roger Bailey, the Lions made too many mistakes to win the game, including four errors - two of which helped dig the Lions a quick 3-0 hole in the first inning. But the Loogootee coach was proud of how his team battled back after the rough start.
“I said ‘The defense sets the tone.’ We came right out and make three errors in two innings. You can’t win championships playing that kind of ball,” said Bailey. “But I just love the effort my guys give. They never quit battling, they never stop. That’s what makes me the proudest as a coach.”
Unlike Loogootee when the Lions had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the seventh, Rivet (14-12) took advantage of a bases loaded, no out situation in the ninth. Tanner Thomas, who was 0-3 against Lion starter Matt Mathies, singled to center against relieve Jesse Horney, scoring Wirth and Peyton Cummings to break the 3-3 tie that had existed since the fourth inning.
The Lions threatened to end the game in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with no outs against Allen. But the Rivet junior bounced back to hold LHS at bay and force the game to extra innings, thanks in no small part to a fine play by third baseman Thomas, whose fine stop and throw to home plate cut down Mathies for the first out of the inning.
Mathies went the first seven for Loogootee and settled down after first, allowing Rivet just three hits and no runs over his final six innings on the hill. In all, Mathies surrendered seven hits and fanned two while walking one before giving way to Horney in the eighth.
Allen likewise left the mound after seven innings, allowing six hits and striking out six while walking four before Wirth relieved him to start the eighth inning.
Rivet started quickly against Mathies and the Lions. Singles by Gavin Benock, Cummings, and Thomas coupled with a double by Chase Allen and Lion errors by Alex Frye and Trevor Resler keyed a three-run first for the Patriots.
But after being shutdown by Allen through three frames, the Lions rebounded in the fourth and knotted the game at 3-3. Casey Miller, Branden Wilz, and Resler each singled for the Lions in the inning, and Loogootee benefited by a trio of walks issued by Allen to Mathies, Connor Wittmer, and Frye.
Bailey talked fondly of his five seniors - Waylon Mathews, Will Nonte, Horney, Frye, and Wittmer.
“Those guys are responsible for much of what this program has accomplished since I’ve been around it,” said Bailey. “I love those guys, they’re all good quality players, they’re good quality men. They’re all going to do well.”
Rivet will face Shoals in Monday’s second semifinal at 12:30 p.m.. Barr-Reeve and North Daviess will square off in the first semifinal at 10 a.m. Winners from those two games will decide the sectional champion beginning at 7 p.m. on Monday.