SALEM – The hearts of the players on Vandalia’s Jr. Legion team and its fans collectively dropped as a flaring, would-be game-tying blooper began to drop into right field last Thursday.
Well, everyone’s except Matt Campbell’s.
His sliding catch for the second out in the bottom of the seventh inning saved a run and pumped life back into Vandalia’s squad after a leadoff triple gave Salem some momentum before Post 95 closed out a 2-1 victory in the first-round of the District Tournament.
“That kid wasn’t tagging up (at third), so he was ready to score,” said Vandalia coach TK Kinkead, adding that Post 95 probably would not have won without the catch. “If Matt doesn’t make that play, it’s a tied game and the momentum changes.”
The drama, however, did not end with that grab.
After Connor Beasley, the team’s ace who struck out nine in a complete-game effort, walked the next batter, he engaged in a nine-pitch battle with Alex Phillips.
Phillips fouled off five pitches during the at-bat, but Beasley won the struggle by inducing a pop-up to shortstop Leyton Godoyo to give the Jr. Legion squad its first win at districts in several years.
“That last at-bat was baseball,” Kinkead said. “That was exciting, as a coach, to see guys battling. That shows how this team can be if they play.”
And Vandalia certainly came to play, as they snatched up the game’s momentum in the first inning.
Beasley hit Salem’s Wyatt McGhee to lead off the bottom of the first, but when Zach Tate hit a blooper to center in the next at-bat, McGhee underestimated the speed of center fielder Levi Carroll.
Carroll lost his cap he rushed in to make the catch, and his high throw to first base was hauled in by Michael Wells before McGhee, who was standing on second when the catch was made, could make it back to the bag.
Vandalia then used some unconventional antics to score a run during the top of third to break the scoreless tie.
Josh Lawson walked and stole second before advancing to third when an error was committed because Salem’s first baseman lost track of Godoyo’s pop up in the lights.
Goyodo danced off of first base before the next pitch and took off before Salem’s T.J. Alberson delivered it.
Alertly, Lawson took off for home and scored, while Godoyo was tagged out in a rundown.
“(Alberson) had a great (pickoff) move, and (my players) felt if they were going to get anything, they were going to have to do stuff by themselves,” Kinkead said. “I’m never going to yell at them for making hustle plays, and if they make it close, I can’t say anything as a coach.”
A couple of other hustle plays failed for Post 95 during the game, including at least one that cost the team a run when Godoyo overpursued on an error and was gunned down at the plate. Kinkead dismissed that play, however, because “nine times out of 10, that throw is going to be off, and he would have scored.”
Salem evened the score in the bottom of the third after a sacrifice fly, but Post 128 would not get another runner to third until the seventh.
Beasley scored the game-winner in the fifth after reaching on a walk and scoring when Nick Metzger hit a sacrifice fly to left.
“These guys knew what they were up against,” Kinkead said. “They understood that we hadn’t had the season we wanted, but records are 0-0 (in the tournament).
“They played great. It was awesome.”