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The Cougars' run to state came to a halt Monday night as South Central fell to Marissa High School in the Supersectional in Marion.
“We always wanted to play in June,” South Central coach Kurt Jones said. “Of course, June is usually the state finals.”
South Central’s ace, Tanner Bushue, got the call on just two days' rest, and he was not himself.
Jones did not make his final decision to start Bushue until Monday. His fastball reached 90 only a few times, and his curve ball was not sharp.
The Cougars fell behind in the bottom of the first, as Bushue had some control problems. With a runner on third, a sharply hit ball was muffed by the third baseman, resulting in an error and a run scored.
A base hit through the left side a few batters later scored the second run.
The Cougars struggled in the batter's box and did not get their first hit until the top of the fourth when Dylan Sill hit a double to the wall. He would be left stranded.
Bushue’s night ended early as Jones pulled him after the fourth inning. His pitch count was already up to 73; he threw 30 pitches in the prolonged first inning.
“I had a number in my mind,” Jones said about Bushue’s targeted pitch count. “That first inning really screwed with it a lot.”
Jones said that this game was not bigger than hurting Bushue’s future in baseball.
The fifth inning also brought more runs for Marissa. With the bases loaded, a routine fly ball to the right fielder ended up being misplayed due to the sun in the fielder’s eyes. Just one run scored.
A base hit to a gap in the outfield later in the inning, brought in two more runs for the Meteors.
Going into the top of the seventh, the Cougars were trying to go for their third come-from-behind win in as many games.
A base hit by Dylan Sill got the team going, and he would eventually come around to score to make the score 5-1.
The final batter would ground out and South Central was denied the Supersectional championship.
“Some of the last three years weren’t a lot of fun, but these guys brought fun back into it for everybody involved,” Jones said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them; it’s a great group of kids.”
South Central ends the season 20-10. Bushue is 8-3 on the season.
S.C. vs. Edwards County
Just 16 hours after winning its semifinal game, South Central was taking the field again. This time, the sectional championship was on the line, along with a trip to the Supersectional on Monday.
After the game, South Central coach Kurt Jones said that for the past year, his team has been looking for the “big game mentality.” And Saturday, he thinks they finally found it.
Edwards County came out swinging on Saturday and plated four runs in the top of the first. The Cougars chipped away at the lead over the next four innings and ended up tying the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth.
Edwards County was able to break the tie on a homer and take a two-rune lead in the top of the fifth. It pushed the lead to three with another run in the top of the seventh.
Just as the bottom of the seventh started, and Edwards brought in a new pitcher, the rain began to fall.
Jones thought that the rain may have had some affect on the Lion's pitching in the final frame, but he also cited the pressure of having to get the final three outs of the game.
“Those last three outs are hard to get,” Jones said. “Good or bad. Whatever you are as a pitcher, it’s the hardest three outs to get.”
A leadoff single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases for South Central with no outs. A sacrifice fly to left scored the first run to cut it to 7-5.
A ground ball by Isaac Grapperhaus got through the infield and scored the two runners on base, tying the game at seven. Seth Arnold would run for Grapperhaus, and a line drive by the next batter moved Arnold up to third.
Freshman Cole Armstrong then hit a line drive off the pitcher's leg, scoring the game-winning run.
Ian King pitched a complete game for the Cougars, striking out 10 and giving up seven runs on five hits. He threw 124 pitches.
“[King is] one that has struggled a lot with confidence and that big-game mentality,” Jones said. “Hopefully, [the win] will do something for him.”
Grapperhaus was 2-for-3 with two RBI. Tyler Gillet was 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
South Central vs. North Clay
After a being delayed a day, changing venues and numerous time changes, the Cougars of South Central finally got a shot at playing their sectional semifinal game, on Friday in Flora against North Clay.
When Tanner Bushue took the mound for South Central, everyone knew that North Clay would struggle for hits and runs. But not everyone expected the Cougars to struggle against freshman Dylan McKnally, who just about matched Bushue pitch-for-pitch.
The teams held each other scoreless through the first five innings and when the tie was broken, it was by North Clay, in the top of the sixth. The Cardinals' only run came on an infield single. They were able to hold the lead through the bottom half of the sixth.
The Cougars led off the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back singles and a walk. A base hit by Isaac Grapperhaus drove in the tying run.
The next batter laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position at second and third.
Kyle Monical then hit a dribbler in the infield grass. The runner on third was going on contact and scored the winning run as the hit ball was thrown over the first baseman’s head. South Central won 2-1.
Bushue won his eighth game of the season; he was also 2-for-3 in the batter's box. Grapperhaus was 1-for-3 with an RBI.
South Central coach Kurt Jones said this is probably the sharpest Bushue has been all year.