ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The third time proved to be the charm as the Hillsboro High School baseball team captured its first state playoff berth by beating Southeast of Saline, 10-7, Friday in the regional championship game at Marion.
After falling one game short of a state berth in each of the program’s first two seasons, the Trojans broke through with a five-run fifth inning to take command of Friday’s game, which had been postponed from Thursday because of rain.
As pitcher Dustin Jost struck out Southeast’s Andy Pavkov to end the game, the team rushed to the mound in celebration.
No one was more excited than head coach Phil Oelke, who had seen his Trojans come close-but-not-quite to a regional title the past two years.
“I’m emotional anyhow when it comes to athletics, but as the game wore on, the taste started getting a little stronger,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling to see how excited the guys were and how their excitement grew as we went along.”
Heading into the fifth, the Trojans were nursing a slim 3-2 lead. Senior rightfielder Dan Funk sounded the call to arms-and bats-with home run to lead off the inning.
After James Bina grounded out and Corey Thiessen flied to center, Shawn Hughbanks and Jeremy Loewen followed with singles and Dustin Jost drove them home with a double. Layne Frick capped the pivotal inning with a two-run home run to make the score 8-2.
Southeast’s Justin Hartman responded with a two-out, two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the inning to close the margin to 8-4, but the Trojans scored two more times in the top of the sixth.
Funk started the action in the sixth with a one-out single. He was forced at second on a ground ball by Bina, but Thiessen followed with a single to right. Hughbanks then drove in Bina and Thiessen with a single to center for a 10-4 Hillsboro advantage.
Southeast picked up its fifth run in the sixth, but still trailed by five heading into the bottom of the seventh.
The purple-clad Trojans made a final run when a third strike got past catcher Bina, allowing Kerry Kozlow to reach first. Jordan Dupes followed with a two-run blast over the fence.
But Jost, who went the distance for Hillsboro, set down the next three batters-the last on a strikeout-to set off the regional championship celebration.
Southeast had struck first blood with a pair of runs off Jost in the opening inning.
But Hillsboro came back with three runs in the third inning to take the lead for good.
After Grant Brubacher singled up the middle to start the inning, Nathan Fish singled to left. Funk sacrificed the runners to second and third.
Brubacher scored on a bad throw by the Southeast catcher and Fish came home on Bina’s ground ball out. Thiessen followed with a single, Hughbanks walked and then Thiessen scored on Loewen’s single.
Semifinals vs. Beloit
The Trojans made it to the championship game Thursday by slugging their way to an 8-3 win over Beloit in a steady light drizzle.
After Hillsboro went down in order to start the game, Beloit scored a pair of runs when Bobby Angell got on base on an error by Dan Funk in centerfield, then came home on Brandon Cox’s home run.
Hillsboro came back to tie the game in the second with the help of two Beloit errors, then took the lead for good with a six-run third inning. Hillsboro was helped by three walks, a double by James Bina and singles by Corey Thiessen, Shawn Hughbanks and Andy Brubacher.
Beloit added a run in the sixth on an Angell home run off starter Nathan Fish. But Hillsboro’s senior lefthander closed the door by getting the next three hitters out.
Jerod Metcalf came in and put the side down in order to finish the game and pick up the save.
Bina went 3-for-4 to pace the Trojan offense, which accumulated nine hits for the game.
Hughbanks was credited with three RBIs on only one hit in four at-bats.
The Trojans, seeded fifth at 16-5, will make their first tournament appearance at 11 a.m. Friday at Eisenhower Middle School in Manhattan. They will play the number four seed, Silver Lake (18-5).
If the Trojans win, they will play the winner of the game between top-seeded Wichita Collegiate and Erie at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The winner of that semifinal game will go on to play for the championship at 5:30 p.m. The loser will play for third place at 3 p.m.