With a two-run lead and its best pitcher on the mound heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Borgia was poised for a giant upset in the championship game of the Class 4 District 4 Baseball Tournament Wednesday against Westminster.
But the two-time defending Class 3 state champions came alive.
The top-seeded Wildcats (29-3) overcame a 3-1 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the second-seeded Knights at Ronsick Field, 4-3.
“We played outstanding. We did everything we needed to do. We had pretty good at-bats against a really good pitcher. I thought we had enough runs,” said Borgia Head Coach Rob Struckhoff. “We got a bad hop to start the seventh inning. It jumped on him. That’s the way it goes. It was an outstanding effort. Westminster battled, that’s what they do. That’s why they’re a great program. We played right with them. I’m very proud of our team.”
Tony Helfrich pitched the entire game for Borgia (15-7), suffering his first loss of the season in heartbreaking fashion.
“We were confident from the beginning. We were all fired up. It just didn’t go our way in the end,” Helfrich said. “I’m definitely happy with my performance, as well as everyone else’s. I just wish we could have won it. Good luck to them. It’s been a great season.”
It was the eighth consecutive district championship for the Wildcats, who advanced to the Class 4 sectional round Tuesday against Lutheran South.
“We haven’t been down like that in a while, so it was different for us. I really had to settle the guys down before the sixth and seventh innings. I don’t know if I did, but at least they went out there and did a better job,” said Westminster Head Coach Rich Van Gilst. “Hitting is contagious. As soon as one guy goes, the next guy goes. The last out in baseball is the hardest to get.”
Westminster entered the bottom of the seventh inning with the eight, nine and leadoff batters due up.
Tyler Catlett led off with a hard ground ball to shortstop, which took a bad hop over the glove of Borgia’s Grant Eckelkamp for a hit.
Andrew Colgrove followed with a single to put runners at first and second bases.
A sacrifice bunt by Kyle Kinner put runners at second and third bases with one out.
Bryce Bell then grounded out, which scored a run to make the score 3-2, putting a runner at third base with two outs.
With Shane Benes at the plate, Westminster’s biggest threat, Helfrich threw two pitches in the dirt and then intentionally walked him.
Brett Bond then connected for an RBI single to center field to tie the game, 3-3.
With runners at first and second bases, Caleb Hicks knocked a hit to center field. Benes raced home to end the game.
“For us, it doesn’t matter if we’re at the top or the bottom of our lineup,” Van Gilst said. “We’ve got guys all through the lineup who can get the job done.”
Helfrich allowed one run on just two hits through the first six innings. For the game, he allowed four runs on six hits with two hit batters, three walks and six strikeouts.
“That team is really good. Their pitcher did a great job. I really hadn’t seen him or talked to anyone who had seem him because we don’t play any teams they do,” Van Gilst said. “Early in the game, I knew we were going to struggle unless we were willing to make some adjustments at the plate. I don’t know if we did or if he just missed some spots, but we got it done.”
Struckhoff said Helfrich was on his game.
“You can’t say enough about Tony. He did an incredible job. It’s been like that all season. He had an outstanding year. He’s not just an outstanding pitcher, but an outstanding person,” Struckhoff said. “He’s not going to overpower you, but he hits his spots, keeps the ball down and makes hitters get themselves out most of the time.”
Helfrich was quick to credit his teammates.
“This is, by far, the most favorite team I’ve ever played on. We really came together as a unit. Tonight, we played to our potential, which I knew we could. They just won it. It’s hard to take, but they deserve it,” Helfrich said. “I don’t think I’m as great of a pitcher as people make me out to be. I guess I have the will to do well. I have a drive to motivate people and motivate myself. That’s my best attribute.”
Left-hander Ben Lovell, a Belmont University recruit, pitched all seven innings for Westminster. He allowed three runs on seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
“We gave up some unearned runs, which is uncharacteristic of us,” Van Gilst said. “They forced the issue a couple of times and it worked for them.”
Borgia took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning. A single by Mitchell Hammack and a double by Grant Eckelkamp put runners at second and third bases. Hammack then scored on a passed ball.
Westminster tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the third on an RBI groundout by Bond.
The Knights took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Helfrich reached on an error and later scored on an RBI single by Jacob Haskins.
Borgia made the score 3-1 in the top of the seventh inning. Nate Hillermann singled and later scored on an RBI single by Eckelkamp.
Eckelkamp finished the game with three hits (one double) and one RBI.
Hammack and Hillermann both added one hit and one run.
Haskins had one hit and one RBI. Justin Baylard had one hit. Helfrich scored a run.
Hicks led Westminster with two hits. Bryce Bell, Catlett, Colgrove and Bond each added one hit.
“We had a couple of big hits to knock guys home,” Struckhoff said. “It looked like we had enough going into the bottom of the seventh with Tony on the mound. They did a great job coming back. That’s a credit to them.”
Borgia’s seven seniors were Noah Borgerding, Matt Jones, Nick Jacquin, Michael Kren, Helfrich, Eckelkamp and Haskins.
“We had an outstanding senior class, not just the guys who started, but also the guys off the bench,” Struckhoff said “They all worked hard and were great leaders. They’re all great kids. It will be a tough class to replace.”