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Vandalia beats Pana on walkoff safety squeeze

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By Jonathan Stark

In two regular season meetings, Vandalia was able to beat Pana easily, winning 12-2 and 8-1. When the Vandals were matched up with the Panthers in the regional quarterfinals, all indications were that it would be another thrashing by Vandalia. But with its season on the line, Pana gave the Vandals a fight, with the game coming down to a bases-loaded safety squeeze in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"Pana came out with nothing to lose and ready to go. They gave us some fits today," Vandalia coach Luke Hohlt said.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, senior Ryan Thiele lined a shot through the right side to become the go-ahead run in a 2-2 game. TK Kinkead and Trevor Montgomery followed with back-to-back walks, loading the bases and putting Thiele just 90 feet from the regional championship in T-Town on Wednesday.

Sophomore Dathan Berning got to a one ball, two strike count. With two strikes on him, a foul bunt would result in an out. Regardless of the risk, Vandalia head coach put on the safety squeeze. With the safety squeeze on, Thiele wouldn't commit to going home until contact was made.

"It was supposed to be a safety squeeze, but Ryan is about as aggressive as anyone could be. We wanted to make sure Dathan got the bunt down. With two strikes, he's at least going to foul the ball off," Hohlt said. "We thought it was a good situation...we had the right people in the right spots."

As soon as the ball hit the ground and bounced a couple feet up the first-base line, Pana players started walking off the field, not even attempting a double-play that would have gotten them out of the jam. Thiele scored and the Vandals won 3-2.

"You take advantage of situations like that," Hohlt said.

In the first must-win game of the year, Hohlt went with Montgomery on the mound. Pana had seen Kyle Hawkins earlier in the season, and Hohlt was confident in Montgomery and wanted to save Hawkins for T-Town, should they win. Montgomery gave the Vandals five strong innings on the hill. He struck out five. The only run he surrendered was in the top of the fourth inning. Following a walk, a stray pickoff throw allowed the runner to move up to third. He scored on a single to center.

After falling behind, 1-0, in the fourth inning, Vandalia took a 2-1 lead in the fifth. Cody Norris led the inning off with a walk and moved up to second on a single to right by Thiele. Kinkead bunted them over into scoring position. An error allowed Norris and Thiele to score.

Thiele came on in relief in the sixth and got off to a bumpy start. He gave up a leadoff double followed by a walk. A run scored on sacrifice fly to center field and another one was cut down at the plate, trying to score on an infield single.

Thiele went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. Montgomery went 1-for-3 with two runs batted in. Berning went 2-for-4 with the game winning RBI.

Vandalia played T-Town on Wednesday in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. in Teutopolis. Results were not available at press time, check www.leaderunion.com on Thursday for results.