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Baldridge throws no-hitter, Patoka wins EIC Tournament

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By Seth Whitehead

Drew Baldridge was so caught up in helping his team do something it hadn't done since 1999 that he failed to realize he'd done something few ever do.

"I didn't realize it until coach told me that I threw a no-hitter," said the senior moments after leading the Patoka baseball team to a 3-1 victory over Brownstown Friday in the championship game of the Egyptian-Illini Conference Tournament.

"I was just so happy that we won the game that I didn't even think about it," Baldridge said.

The lanky righty's 13-strikeout, no-hit performance completed a similarly dominating conference campaign for the Warriors (14-4), who won the EIC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in nine years.

According to coach Clayton Cain Jr., a key to the Warriors' successful fall was the fact that they actually started preparing for it in the summer.

"These guy showed up two weeks before (official practice started) to practice on their own," Cain said. "They were hungry and they wanted it.

"They came out and worked hard, and they've earned everything they're getting, so my hat's off to them."

Baldridge was the deserving recipient of the gameball Friday, as his vast assortment of pitches - including a nasty split-finger fastball - had Brownstown baffled. But despite getting no-hit, the host Bombers didn't make it easy.

Brownstown actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead despite fanning three times against Baldridge in the first.

Carl Sefton struck out on a ball in the dirt to lead off the game, but he beat out the throw to first by a hair. Sefton then stole second and advanced to third when the throw to second sailed into center before. He then scored on an error on a routine grounder to short.

Patoka quickly evened the score at 1-1 in the second, however, as John Spicer doubled with one out and Dylan Adams came up with a clutch two-out RBI hit moments later.

Patoka took the lead for good in the fourth, as Luke Murfin led off with an RBI triple before beating a throw to home on a Spicer grounder to second.

Baldridge sailed through the first five innings - allowing just two walks while striking out 10 - and he appeared to be on cruise control with two outs in the sixth, as he had two strikes out Levi Tackett.

But Tackett sent a grounder down the left-field line that third baseman Cody Wimberly made a nice diving stab on, but threw wildly to first for a two-base error. Tackett then moved to third on a wild pitch.

He nearly moved home to tie the game at 2-2 on another ball in the dirt, but catcher Derek Back saved a run by blocking the errant pitch in the dirt.

After Cody Robbins drew a walk, the Warriors escaped the frame unscathed, as Wimberly made amends for his error by scooping up a Zach Betti chopper to his right and throwing to first for the final out of the inning.

The Warriors tacked on an insurance run in the sixth, as Tyler Payne scored Murfin with an RBI single after Murfin blooped a hit to center and snuck into second on a controversial call.

Though the throw from the outfield beat him, Murfin was called safe at second, as the base umpire ruled that the ball had trickled out of Sefton's glove after he applied the tag. Adding injury to insult, Sefton was badly spiked on the play, forcing him to leave the game.

The Bombers got off to a promising start in the seventh, as their leadoff batter reached on a throwing error. But he was caught off first for the first out of the inning after taking an ill-advised turn toward second.

Baldridge then struck out the next two batters to end the game and set off a jubilant celebration on the right side of the diamond.

"Ever since we were young, this group has always been good at baseball," Baldridge said. "All of us have been great friends our whole lives and played sports all the way through.

"We knew our junior and senior years we could do something. I'm glad that we finally did it."

Brownstown starter Michael Kramer pitched admirably in place of injured ace Jared Winters, holding Patoka to six hits in six innings. But he took the tough-luck loss, as the Bombers stranded five on the basepaths and had another runner thrown out.

"We went into the season knowing our strengths and weaknesses, and one of our weaknesses was hitting," Brownstown coach Ken Milano said. "We got guys on, we got guys over. We just didn't get them in. That's been the story all year."

Thursday's Semifinals

Patoka 11, St. Elmo 0

The Warriors plated seven runs in the first and never looked back.

Luke Murfin had the biggest blow of the inning, doubling in two runs, while Zach Wadkins added a two-run single.

Murfin finished a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, while Baldridge was 2-for-3 in a five-inning affair.

Cody Wimberly finished the fall with 3-0 record, as he struck out eight and allowed just one hit in going the distance.

The senior righty walked none and saw his earned run average drop below 1.00 for the season. Wimberly was even more impressive at the plate during the fall, hitting near .500 with six homers and 30-plus RBIs in just 17 games.

Kase Stolte has the only hit for the Eagles, who finished 4-14.

Brownstown def. Ramsey

The Bombers advanced to the title game by beating the Rams for the second straight time.

No score or individual stats were available for this game.