With storm clouds looming in the west and just nine players in the dugout, the Vandalia Junior American Legion baseball team had to feel fortunate just to take the field Friday in an elimination game at the 23rd District East Division Tournament at Salem.
Vandalia’s luck ran out long before those storm clouds emptied onto the field in the middle of the seventh, however, as Post 95 saw its season come to an end with an 8-2 rain-shortened loss to South Central.
The lopsided defeat came to a team that Vandalia beat earlier in the season.
But many of the players who were in the lineup for that victory were not available Friday, leaving Vandalia coach Luke Hohlt more than a little perturbed.
‘I had nine kids unavailable for our potential last game,’ said Hohlt, who is also VCHS’s varsity coach. ‘To me, that is unacceptable, and it is not the type of mentality I am trying to instill in our players and program.’
The season-ending loss completed an unfortunate reversal of fortunes for Post 95.
Vandalia was on the verge of moving on in the winner’s bracket the night before against Salem, as it enjoyed a three-run lead heading into the final inning.
But Salem put together a decisive four-run rally after a costly error, going on to a 6-5 victory.
Ryan Thiele was 2-for-4 with a double in the loss.
South Central also fell in its tournament opener, as Teutopolis rolled to an 11-3 victory.
But Curt Jones’ team bounced back strong against Post 95, riding Dylan Sill’s arm, Ian King’s bat and outstanding defense to a convincing victory.
The Cougars took the lead just two at-bats into the game on a King RBI double.
He added a two-run double in the third, driving in Colby Bushue and Justin Armstrong, who proceeded with a single and a double, respectively.
A three-run fourth blew the game open, as South Central took advantage of a pair of Post 95 errors, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batter.
That was more than enough support for Sill, who didn’t allow a hit until Zach Thompson’s RBI single with two outs in the fourth inning.
Thompson’s hit plated Zach Marquess, who drew a walk and moved to second on a groundout. But Sill would allow just one more hit, a sixth-inning single by Craig Freeman.
‘I thought Dylan Sill’s performance on the mound was very good,’ Jones said. ‘He defeated a very good Flora team his last time out, so he has been pretty consistent lately.’
Sill wound up allowing two earned runs on two hits and four walks in six innings, a fine pitching line that was aided greatly by outstanding defense.
South Central played errorless baseball and made the most of its seven hits, as King led the way by going 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs.
‘I was also happy that we made good hard contact at the plate for most of the game and our defense was pretty solid throughout,’ Jones said.
A brief defensive lapse proved to be costly on Sunday, however, as South Central’s season ended with a 7-5 loss to Salem.
South Central took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the fifth, but the host team scored three times on three straight walks, a dropped fly ball in the outfield, a sac fly, and an infield error.
‘Tyler Gillett threw pretty well, but they seemed to capitalize on every walk and seemed to capitalize on every walk and what few mistakes we made defensively,’ Jones said.
Tanner Bushue led South Central with a pair of singles.
Bushue returns from injury
Despite suffering a loss to second-seeded Teutopolis in its district tournament opener, the future of South Central baseball got much brighter with the return of ace senior-to-be Tanner Bushue’s return to the mound.
Coming off a serious knee injury that kept him out of action a majority of the spring season, Bushue was sharp in striking out nine in three innings of relief against T-Town.
‘It was his first game back after his injury in April, and he proceeded to strike out nine straight batters to finish the game,’ Jones said. ‘His performance didn’t have much bearing on the game, other than it prevented them short-gaming us, but it sure was nice to see him back out there.’
Justin Armstrong, Cole Armstrong, and Larry Schorek all had two hits for the offense.
Several make all-star team
Thiele, TK Kinkead and Troy Kimbro (of Nokomis) will represent Post 95 in the 23rd District Junior American Legion All-Star game on July 20.
Justin Armstrong, Gillett and Ryan Gesell will represent South Central.