In an era where everybody wants to hit home runs, a game can still be won on a well-placed bunt.
Or in some cases two.
The Union Post 297 Freshmen utilized the bunt three times in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday, including two squeeze plays, to come from behind and defeat Hannibal Post 55 (12-6), 5-4, for the Ninth District Tournament Championship.
The win concluded a 3-0 run for Post 297 through the tournament that included a 4-2 victory against Washington Post 218 in the winners’ bracket semifinal and a 3-0 shutout win against Hannibal in the winners’ bracket final.
Tuesday’s championship game saw Post 297 fall behind 4-1 in the top of the sixth inning, but surge back to make it a 4-3 game on Cooper Bailey’s two-RBI double in the bottom half of the frame.
Representing what could have been the tying run, Bailey was thrown out at the plate while trying to score on Luke Koch’s single to right field.
“We tried to push the envelope and got thrown out there at the plate,” Post 297 Manager Ryan Bailey said. “That gives them back a lot of the momentum.”
Hannibal threatened to widen the gap once again in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with one out on three consecutive singles.
Pitcher Conner Borgmann then got Kameron Faust to fly out to left field where Alex Kuelker made the play for Union and Hannibal opted not to try to tag up and score against him.
The next batter, Cayden Graham, then drove the ball into right center field where Collin Gerdel made a diving snag for Union to save two, potentially three runs on the play.
“Collin starts sometimes and comes in off the bench sometimes and today he didn’t come in until the fifth or sixth inning,” Ryan Bailey said. “He came in and got us the first out of the inning and then with the bases loaded and two outs, to make that diving catch — if that gets by him the game’s over. Just a great play.”
With the momentum back in Post 297’s favor, Union got things started when Hayden Burke singled through the right side of the infield and had to hustle to beat the throw to first from right fielder Chase Haner.
Burke then stole second base on a pickoff attempt and moved over to third on Gerdel’s sacrifice bunt.
Jayden Overschmidt delivered the tying run with a squeeze bunt down the first base line, scoring Burke.
“Once I was on third and saw the bunt (sign), I knew I could trust my bro to get it down and get me in there safe,” Burke said.
Overschmidt had tried earlier in the game to bunt for a hit against Hannibal pitcher Spencer Whetstone with no success. However, he got down the bunt that mattered.
Unable to try for a play at the plate, Hannibal went to first base with the throw and it sailed wide, allowing Overschmidt to advance to second on the error.
“That was surprising,” Overschmidt said. “It was a pretty good bunt, but I wasn’t expecting to make it to second and then Hayden scored and that was just amazing. ... I had been 0-4. To go from that to scoring the winning run to send us to state — that’s just crazy. It was a crazy change of emotions.”
After a 2-0 count to Ryan Ewald, Overschmidt stole third and Ewald was issued a base on balls around his attempts to squeeze in the winning run.
The final batter, Conner Borgmann, took just one pitch, allowing Ewald to steal second.
The next pitch came in high and Borgmann bunted it down the first base line, scoring Overschmidt for the winning run.
“Conner has one of the higher averages on our team and doesn’t look like a guy that would bunt,” Ryan Bailey said. “He’s not going to bunt for a hit, but he is one of our best bunters. When I had him up with a guy on third, I really felt that we were going to get that done.”
Borgmann’s bunt was the team’s third successful attempt to put down a sacrifice in the inning and the throw was too late to catch Overschmidt at the plate.
“Jayden Overschmidt came up and he’s a good bunter,” Ryan Bailey said. “He’d struggled today, but he got it done in his last at-bat. Collin Gerdel can handle the ball really well and Ryan Ewald can bunt. So, it worked out where we had four guys that can bunt coming up all in a row.”
This is the second consecutive state tournament berth for the Post 297 Freshmen. Union was the fourth-place finisher in last season’s state tournament at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field in Washington.