After recording the final out last night against St. Mary's of St. Louis for a 6-4 victory, the Boonville Pirates baseball team stood near the dugout anxious to hear who its next opponent would be in the Final Four next Thursday in O'Fallon.
As it turned out, the Pirates will meet an old rival in the semifinal round of the state tournament Thursday in Class 4 starting at 7 p.m. Waiting to play the Pirates will be the Oak Grove Panthers, who beat St. Pius X of Kansas City last night 3-2.
With a standing room only crowd at Twillman field in Harley park, the Pirates didn't disappoint the crowd, especially sophomore Ethan Sander, who went 3-for-3 at the plate with a single, two triples and one RBI. But that's not all, Sander also made a diving catch in the fourth inning to save a run and pitched two innings in relief for the save.
After the game, Boonville Pirates skipper Tim Edwards said he didn't what else Sander could do.
"He makes a diving catch in right, which turned out to be a highlight, and then hits two triples and drives in a run and then shuts St. Mary's down by striking out five batters in two innings," Edwards said. "He was the man tonight, but it wasn't just him, though. We had players all up and down the lineup that contributed. The bunts by Jacob Francis and Keaton Barnes were huge and Zach Nixon making all kinds of plays at second base. Dallas Franklin also came up with a big single up the middle and made some plays at first base, so it was everybody tonight."
While both teams finished the game with eight hits, the Pirates will have to clean up a few things defensively before their next game against Oak Grove after committing two errors.
Nonetheless, the Pirates jumped out in front against St. Mary's by pushing across two runs in the top-half of the second when Sander tripled to the deepest part of the part in right center and scored one batter later on a fly out to right by Alec Viertel.
Of course St. Mary's didn't lay down. After giving up two in the top-half of the inning, St. Mary's rallied back with one in the bottom half of the inning when Joseph Ross hit a lead-off double to left and scored on the RBI-single past Austin Hulbert at shortstop to cut the lead to 2-1.
Meanwhile, in the third, the Pirates added another run on one walk, one error and a RBI-single by Zach Nixon to go up 3-1.
Boonville didn't stop there, though. After a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom-half of the third, the Pirates added a little cushion by plating three runs in their half of the fourth on four hits and one walk to extend the lead to 6-1.
Page 2 of 3 - Of course how the Pirates did it is another story. After back-to-back singles by Sander and Viertel to led off the inning, Franklin came back with a perfect sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third. Sander wound up scoring on a wild pitch to make it 4-1. Meanwhile, after Jacob Francis reached on a bunt single for another run, Austin Hulbert doubled to score a run to push the lead to 6-1.
The Dragons made it interesting after that while sending across three runs in the bottom-half of the fourth on four hits to cut the lead again to two at 6-4. While Sander's great catch in right saved a run, it also kept St. Mary's from adding further damage.
Sander also came up with his second triple of the game to center with two outs in the fifth but was left standing when Bieber got Viertel on a fly out to right.
Sander on the first triple he saw it go over the second baseman's head and knew it was in the gap. "I was thinking double and then I saw he was still running and I saw coach's waving his arms so I went ahead to third. On the second triple, I couldn't believe it at first. I thought the center fielder was going to catch it but I kept running anyway. It just feels great to be playing in the Final Four."
Edwards mixed and matched his pitching after that, with Caleb Hein pitching two innings in relief of starter Jordan Copeland. Then, to closeout the final-two innings, Sander worked his magic by recording five strikeouts and giving up just one hit and two walks for the save.
Copeland picked up the win on the mound for Boonville while Kevin Hennessy took the loss for St. Mary's.
The Pioneers also made it interesting by loading the bases. However after one hit, one walk and one error, Sander came back and got the final out on a fly out to left. Meanwhile, in the seventh for St. Mary's, the Pioneers again had a chance to either tie the game or take the lead after a two-out single to left by Michael Lamb and a walk to Adam Bieber. But that all came to an end when Sander got Bieber on a strikeout to end the game.
Edwards said he didn't take a breath until the final out was recorded.
"It was a tight game all the way," Edwards said. "We have been here before where we thought we were in charge and let something slip away and I didn't want to revisit that by any means. I am just super, super proud of our guys. I have never had a group that wanted it anymore than this group. They love each other, they work together and they have a lot of heart."
Page 3 of 3 - Copeland definitely showed the prowess to get the job done. After starting only two games during the regular season, Copeland came in and pitched the first-three innings for the Pirates and gave up three runs on four hits. Hein then came in and pitched two innings in relief and surrendered one run on three hits while striking out one. Then, to finish the game, Sander pitched two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh.
For St. Mary's, Hennessy took the loss by giving up six runs, four earned, on seven hits and three walks while striking out four. Bieber then came in and pitched three innings in relief and allowed just one walk while striking out four.
Austin Hulbert was 1-for-3 in the game with a double and one RBI while Jacob Francis, Zach Nixon and Alec Viertel finished the game with one single, one RBI and one run scored, Dallas Franklin also with one single and Jalen Poindexter with one run scored.
For St. Mary's, Michael Lamb, Joseph Dattoli and Justin Nienhaus each had two hits.