TERRE HAUTE —
The ballpark’s been great, the concessions have been praised and the other amenities have been noteworthy as well. Yet Wayne Newton Post 346 is trying its best not to be a gracious host for the American Legion baseball Great Lakes National Regional, and came very close to be getting near the driver’s seat late Friday.
Edwardsville, Ill., Post 199 finally stopped the host team 3-2 in 12 innings in a second straight late-night appearance for Post 346. Unlike Thursday, however, when Midland, Mich., got caught off its game, there was no one in a hurry for Friday’s game to be over.
Asked if he remembered any better games in his long tenure with Post 346, manager John Hayes answered, “I can’t say I have,” late Friday. “Each team would come close to scoring and the other would make a defensive play. … It was a tough game to lose, but a great baseball game.”
“This was the best American Legion game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Terre Haute catcher Preston Tofaute, “and [Edwardsville] is probably the best American Legion team I’ve ever seen … it was fun to battle with them.”
“This is the one you live for,” added second baseman Craig Peters. “The dream game.”
This is all coming from the losing team, remember.
As the final score indicates, the game came down to pitching. Edwardsville’s Zack Sparks pitched the first nine innings for his team, and Austin Hicks was finally lifted with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the 11th for Post 346 — after throwing 158 pitches.
“I’ll take a bunch of ibuprofen tonight,” Hicks conceded afterward, and after holding a team that had scored 19 runs the day before to just two tallies.
“Austin Hicks pitched his heart out,” Hayes said. “He showed me so much guts tonight.”
After a shaky first inning — two hits after two very hard-hit outs — Hicks was dominating.
“I was just trying to find my strike zone,” he said afterward. “A lot of the time I’ll be shaky early, but once I settled in I just had to pitch my game.”
Post 346 failed to score on a couple of chances despite two hits in the top of the fifth but finally broke through in the seventh.
Tofaute led off with a single, moved up on a sacrifice and a balk and scored on a two-out, two-strike hit by Peters. “Just trying to put the ball in play,” the second baseman said.
Having the lead didn’t mean momentum. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Matt Huelsman walked — the first Hicks had issued — and stole second, scoring from there on a hit by Alex Pizzini. The inning ended on the oddest double play imaginable, however. Peters fielded a soft line drive by Danny Robertson on one bounce and threw Robertson out at first and Pizzini, after getting to second, took his helmet off and was heading back to first when he was called out.
“Maybe he thought I tagged him,” Peters guessed afterward.
“I thought [Robertson] was the third out,” said Pizzini, who was called out for the helmet being off.
Post 346 wasted a leadoff single in the eighth and was unable to score despite two errors on Edwardsville in the ninth. With one and runners at the corners, center fielder Drew Curtis — the must-see player of this tournament — grabbed Peters’ line drive and fired a bullet to the plate to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring, or even attempting to score.
“Edwardsville has the best outfield arms on one team that I’ve seen in awhile,” Hayes noted afterward.
Terre Haute had something going off reliever Cole Hagen immediately in the top of the 10th when Pete Lannoo walked and Cody Brock rocketed a single off the glove of spectacular shortstop Chase McPeak.
Edwardsville ran the wheel play to perfection on Sam Wolf’s bunt — third baseman Huelsman charging, then whirling and throwing to McPeak for the force at third — and second baseman Jordan Heckler robbed Cody Thornton of a hit on a play that moved two runners in scoring position.
Tofaute worked the count to 2-and-2 and then — after ripping the ball his two previous trips — dribbled the ball down the third-base line. Huelsman couldn’t make the play and Terre Haute took the lead, although eventually leaving the bases loaded.
“I was down to my last strike and I just happened to find a good spot,” Tofaute said later. “But I was running as hard as I could. It would’ve been a close play at first [even with a clean pickup].”
And again, right back came Edwardsville. One-out singles by Levi Wallace and Heckler preceded a double to the fence by McPeak that tied the score. After Curtis was intentionally walked, however, Hicks retired Post 199’s fourth and fifth hitters while keeping the game tied.
Hagen went on to retire the last seven batters he faced, however, and Hicks finally tired in the 11th — two walks and hit batter (on top of the helmet) showing his command was fading.
“I started to press a little bit,” he admitted after the game. “[Edwardsville] was a great ball team, and I couldn’t have asked for a better game … my infielders and outfielders were doing a heck of a job for me.”
Lannoo came in to face McPeak with the bases loaded and finally got the third out after a tense 11-pitch at-bat. But in the bottom of the 12th Curtis had a leadoff single, moved up on a bunt by cleanup hitter Jevon Boyd and scored on a two-hit single by Huelsman.
Post 346 now plays the 4 p.m. game today against Plover, Wis., needing a win to keep playing. Terre Haute is also a pitcher short after T.J. Decker left the team near the end of the state tournament last weekend. “He just decided he didn’t want to play anymore,” Hayes said.
Princeton and Midland play the noon opener today, with the final game being the battle between Napoleon, Ohio, and Edwardsville. That one should be well worth seeing, but probably no better than Friday’s nightcap.
“Nobody was a loser in this park tonight,” Hayes said.
Edwardsville 3, Terre Haute 2, 12 innings
Terre Haute (AB-R-H-RBI) — Milam 3b 5-0-0-0, Lannoo dh-p 5-0-1-0, Hicks p 0-0-0-0, Brock rf 5-0-1-0, Dransfield pr-cf 1-1-0-0, Wolf 1b 6-0-0-0, Thornton cf-rf 6-0-2-0, Tofaute c 5-1-1-0, Pierce lf 2-0-2-0, Johnson ss 4-0-0-0, Peters 2b 5-0-2-1. Totals 44-2-9-1.
Edwardsville (AB-R-H-RBI) — Heckler 2b 4-0-1-0, McPeak ss 6-0-2-1, Curtis cf 5-1-2-0, Boyd 1b 5-0-2-0, Breihan rf 6-0-0-0, Huelsman 3b 3-1-1-1, Pizzini c 4-0-1-1, Robertson lf 5-0-0-0, Wallace dh 4-1-2-0, Sparks p 0-0-0-0, Hagen p 0-0-0-0. Totals 42-3-11-3.
Terre Haute 000 000 100 100 — 2
Edwardsville 000 000 100 101 — 3
Two out when winning run scored.
E — McPeak, Huelsman 3. DP — TH 1, Edwardsville 2. LOB — TH 12, Edwardsville 13. 2B — McPeak. SB — Thornton, Huelsman. SH — Johnson, Pierce 2, Heckler, Boyd.
Terre Haute IP H R ER BB SO
Hicks 10 2/3 9 2 2 4 9
Lannoo (L, 3-6) 1 2 1 1 0 0
Edwardsville IP H R ER BB SO
Sparks 9 8 1 1 1 3
Hagen (W) 3 1 1 0 2 5
HBP — by Hicks (Huelsman 2, Heckler). Bk — Sparks. T — 2:55.
Next — Wayne Newton Post 346 (38-13) plays at 4 p.m. today against Plover, Wis. Edwardsville (34-6) plays immediately after that game against Napoleon, Ohio.