Don?t be surprised if the Hillsboro baseball team doesn?t consider seven to be a lucky number anytime soon.
The seventh inning of their state tournament opener with Silver Lake turned into a game and tournament changer?and not for the better, as the Trojans came out on the short end of a 6-5 heartbreaker in Manhattan.
The Trojans were a mere three outs away from the semifinals with a 4-2 lead heading into the last inning, thanks in large part to a strong pitching performance from Dylan Delk.
But after the senior right-hander got the first batter of the inning to ground out to third, the Trojans? championship dream took a nightmarish turn.
Eagle first baseman Jordan Haverkamp started it with a double to right-center. After he advanced to third on a pitch that got past catcher Aaron Bina, Haverkamp scored on a groundball single to center by pitcher Travis Brown.
With the score 4-3, Dylan Blackman followed with another groundball single, and Delk walked Peter Pfannensteil on four pitches to load the bases.
Cameron Rickel came through with a sacrifice fly for the second out as pinch runner Elliot Gray scored the tying run.
On a 2-0 count, Chase Ray then drove a pitch over the head of Hillsboro?s left-fielder, chasing home two go-ahead runs and leaving Delk crouching on the edge of the pitching mound in stunned frustration.
The inning finally ended with a ground out.
Coach Doug Dick, who visited the mound twice during the inning, said he felt leaving his ace in the game was his best option.
?He did a pretty good job of keeping their better hitters off-balance,? he said. ?They really hadn?t done anything effective against him. I was pretty confident going into that last inning that he could finish it.
?Dylan?s pitch count wasn?t that high at that point,? he added. ?He was hitting the corners pretty good. Bina felt like he was throwing pretty good and his arm felt good. Obviously, he made a couple of pitches that probably weren?t the ones he would have liked.?
Even with the dramatic turn of events, Dick told his team when they returned to the dugout that he believed they could mount a comeback of their own in the last half of the inning.
?I just told them we?ve been down before,? Dick said. ?I told them there?s no doubt in my mind that we can score at least two runs, and maybe three, just to win this game right now.?
His confidence was well-placed.
Luke Moore led off with a walk off Black?man, who came in to pitch the seventh. After Moore stole second, Derek Kelsey moved him to third on a ground out. Bina was then hit by a pitch and Ben Gardner walked to load the bases.
When Blackman plunked Lucas Sinclair with a pitch to force home Moore, the Trojans were within a run with only one out.
But Blackman rallied from his shaky start to strike out Delk and Kale Arnold to end the game.
Hillsboro had taken a 4-0 lead through four innings, with two runs in the third and two more in the fourth.
In the third, Jordan Faul reached on an error to lead off, and Moore drew a walk with one out. After Kelsey flied out, Bina singled to drive in both runners.
In the fourth, Delk led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Arnold. After Faul grounded out, Matt Martin singled to put runs on first and third. A base hit by Moore, coupled with an error in the field, enabled Delk and Martin to score.
The Trojans almost got more runs. With runners on first and second, Bina just missed an extra-base hit?and probably two runs batted in?with a line drive that dropped about a foot foul along the left-field line. He ended up striking out to end the inning.
Silver Lake scored twice in the top of the fifth on a walk and a couple of hits.
Dick said a few misjudgements in the field, including the seventh inning, made the loss harder for his team.
?A lot of the guys were kicking themselves for one thing or another,? Dick said. ?The bottom line is, Silver Lake is a good team.?
In fact, the Eagles went on to win the 3A title with wins over Frontenac and Thomas More Prep in the next two rounds.
?I told the boys early in the week that I thought Silver Lake is the second best team in the tournament and we?re the first?but we?re going to have to go out and prove it,? Dick said. ?If we beat them, I said there?s no doubt we?re going to get to the finals. I truly believe that.
?We knew what kind of hitters they had, especially in the middle of their lineup. We did everything about as well as we could have. The bottom line is, we needed a few more runs offensively.?
With the loss, Hillsboro ended its season with a 16-6 record and the careers of four senior contributors: Martin, Delk, Bina and Gardner.
?The seniors did a good job all year, and obviously they?re going to be missed,? Dick said. ?Now it?s kind of starting over again. It?ll be a year where we have to fill some positions again.
?I was proud of the boys,? he added. ?Eight teams make it to state. We?ve done it three years in a row. We have nothing to be ashamed of.?
This was the first year the state baseball tournament was held in Tointon Family Stadium, home of the K-State basebaseball team.
?They loved it,? Dick said of the change in venue. ?They felt it was a little more big time. The venue at the other place was pretty average. It was a great atmosphere here and it was great K-State let us do that.?