Bennington’s bats stayed hot on the hottest day of the season Wednesday to remain undefeated in the Class B state tournament.
An RBI double by sophomore Tyler LeClair with two outs in the bottom of the seventh propelled the Badgers into Thursday’s 10 a.m. championship game with a 7-6 victory over Eastern Midlands Conference rival Waverly.
The Badgers (19-5) have won four consecutive games to reach the title game, where they’ll meet Hastings. The Tigers defeated Norris 5-4 in an elimination game.
If Hastings wins the first game, a second game would be played approximately 30 minutes afterward to crown a state champion. Both teams advanced to the final for the first time in program history.
Waverly scored one run in each of the first four innings while the Badgers scored twice in the bottom of the first and once in the third and fourth innings.
The game was tied three times, the last being in the top of the seventh when the Vikings erased the 6-4 deficit. An RBI single by Treyton Kozal to drive in Rhett Jordon cut Bennington’s lead to one before Nolan Brown’s two-out single on a 2-1 pitch got Kozal home.
Bennington coach Scott Heese said there was no panic when the team returned to the dugout for the bottom of the seventh.
“They just battled, they didn’t let that bother them,” Heese said. “We have a two-run lead, they get that run with two outs to tie it. We get that last out, and we come in here and it’s like, ‘OK, so what? Move on, next pitch.’ ”
In the bottom of the seventh, starting pitcher Anthony Comfort beat out an infield grounder for a leadoff single. Winning pitcher Grant Japp laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Comfort to second before LeClair doubled home Comfort.
LeClair had dropped a flyball earlier in the game, so he wanted to atone.
“I dropped a few flyballs because of the sun, I couldn’t see it,” LeClair said. “They (The team) picked me up, and it felt good to come through and to help them win.” Heese said LeClair has been getting better as the tournament progressed. The sophomore, batting in the No. 9 hole, had two varsity at-bats during the regular season.
“He just worked his way up through the ranks throughout the year,” Heese said. “He doesn’t have a ton of at-bats for us. Most of his at-bats have come here in the state tournament. He’s come through with some big hits.”
Waverly (21-7)…………111 100 2—6 10 2
Bennington (19-5)…….201 102 1—7 15 2
W: Grant Japp, 2-1. L: Ian Lanki, 3-1. 2B: W, Treyton Kozal. B, Cooper Prososki, Colton Smith, Tyler LeClair. 3B: W, Kozal.
Hastings 5, Norris 4
Sam Wibbels had 15 strikeouts and gave up one hit in 5 2⁄3 innings, but also issued eight walks. Those control issues played a big part in the Titans grabbing a 2-0 lead after two innings. The Hastings bats got revved up in the fifth and sixth innings, though, when the Tigers scored all of their runs.
The victory earned Hastings its first overnight stay of the tournament. The Tigers have bussed back to Hastings the first three days of the tournament for classes and finals.
“It’s been a long week, and I know it’s been for everybody,” Hastings coach Blake Marquardt said. “We try not to use it as an excuse, but we’re traveling a lot of hours. It’s been a tough week, but wow. That’s the only word that comes to my mouth, the performances that they could handle a game like this.”
Norris (19-11)…………110 001 1—4 3 2
Hastings (20-7)………..000 023 x—5 7 0
W: Connor Creech, 2-2. L: Evan Bennett, 5-2.