Once the gold medals were distributed Thursday and it was time for Bennington to accept the Class B state trophy, several Badgers were trying to coax Jackson Martin to step forward and get at least one hand on the prize.
The quiet senior, who minutes earlier kicked off the Badgers’ ninth inning by reaching first base on an infield error, finally moved through the scrum as catcher Kyler Essink and others began lifting it.
Ten years after Scott Heese started the Bennington program, the Badgers were state champions after edging Hastings 4-3 in nine innings at Werner Park. It was the first team championship for Bennington since winning the Class C wrestling title in 1990.
“To be real honest, this is probably a little more than we expected,” Heese said. “But their hard work came through in the end, and it paid off.
“I told the kids from the get go this isn’t going to be easy. They’re not going to give it to us. They’re a quality team, and they’re going to fight, and they did exactly that.”
The Badgers (20-5) finished the season with a nine-game winning streak, including all five state tournament games.
While there were big hitting and defensive contributions Thursday, it was the combined pitching effort of juniors Colton Smith and Wyatt Knutson-Smith that led the Badgers to the trophy.
Smith started and, after giving up a leadoff home run to Jacob Schroeder in the bottom of the first inning, retired the next 12 hitters. Eight of those outs were strikeouts, and Smith finished with 12 Ks in 6 2/3 innings.
“I was thinking ‘That was the first batter of the game, I’ve got the whole game left,’” Smith said. “I knew I had to move on, focus on the next batter and go from there.”
Heese said Smith spun a gem before he had to leave the game in the middle of the seventh because he reached the 110-pitch limit.
“Colton pitched extremely well,” Heese said. “He was in control. He gave up two hits, then Wyatt came in and did his thing.”
Knutson-Smith gave up two hits and one walk in the final 2 1/3 innings, needing 37 pitches to finish the game.
While Hastings scratched out three hits, two of those were for extra bases. After Schroeder’s first-inning home run, the Tigers’ other big blast was a one-out triple in the bottom of the ninth by second baseman Mason Brumbaugh.
First baseman Laif Hultine drove Brumbaugh home on the first pitch he saw from Knutson-Smith to cut Hastings’ lead to 4-3 before Knutson-Smith got the final two outs.
After Bennington regained the lead at 2-1 in the top of the second, Hastings (21-8) tied the game in the bottom of the sixth when Schroeder was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.
After Martin got on base to lead off the ninth, Ashten Schmaderer took Martin’s place at first base as a courtesy runner. Rylan Wallingford hit a one-out single to right and stole second base to put himself and Schmaderer in scoring position.
Nick Bohn then laced a single up the middle to bring both home for the 4-3 lead.
“I was just hunting for a fastball,” Bohn said. “I usually look for a good fastball, and I like to attack early.”
Bennington’s first state baseball tournament appearance was in 2014, and the Badgers were one of the first two teams eliminated. Heese said winning their opening-round game Saturday set the tone for the remainder of the tournament.
“When we came back this year, we wanted to get our money’s worth,” Heese said. “We got that first victory, tasted it, and just kept rolling. The kids have been hitting extremely well, our pitchers have done an outstanding job, and defensively we’ve been pretty solid as well. Everything it takes to be a champion.”
Bennington (20-5)…….110 000 002—4 11 1
Hastings (21-8)……….100 001 001—3 4 1
W: Wyatt Knutson-Smith, 6-2. L: Logan Nordby, 0-1. 2B: B, Anthony Comfort. 3B: H, Mason Brumbaugh. HR: H, Jacob Schroeder.