5/30/2013 3:00:00 PM Big fifth inning propels Pacers title
The number of the back of the jersey Switzerland County Pacer baseball coach Chad Combs wears is '33'.
Until Monday, there was no real significance to the number, but as he reflected on Switzerland County's first Sectional baseball title since 1980, he couldn't help but find it humbling.
"It's been 33 years," he said. "One of my players pointed that out to me this week. I hadn't really given it much thought."
Then he pointed to the number on his back.
"I guess it was meant to be."
If the number on the back of the jersey was symbolic, so was the figurative burden that the entire baseball program had carried on its back for more than three decades.
On a hot, sunny Monday afternoon in Versailles, that burden was lifted.
Playing defending Sectional champion Austin, a squad that had defeated Switzerland County earlier in the season, the Pacers didn't fold after falling behind 4-0 after four innings, and rode a big offensive explosion in the top of the fifth to take a lead that the team would not forfeit.
Facing Eagle starter Hunter Spencer, the top of the fifth began quietly with a strikeout, but Switzerland County catcher Tanner Jones followed that with a single to leftfield; and leadoff batter Nelson Hughes then reached on an infield single.
Nate Hunter then connected, and an error on an Austin infielder loaded the bases.
That brought Hunter Jordan to the plate, and he laced a double to leftcenter field that scored Tanner Jones and Nelson Hughes and brought the Pacers to within a pair, 4-2.
"Those first two runs in the fifth really pushed our confidence through the roof," Coach Combs said following the game. "One of the things we talk about is to put balls in play and even good teams will make mistakes. And they're (Austin) a very good team. Our goal is not to get a base hit, but the hit the ball hard and get on first base. It's those two things. The boys have really bought into that. Nobody is worried about their batting averages. We put the ball in play and sometimes it pays off."
Austin changed pitchers, and senior Celby Kinney greeted the new Eagle hurler with a single to center that scored Nate Hunter and Hunter Jordan to tie the game.
Third baseman Kyle Konkle followed that with a single; and when Bob Tressler drew a walk - the bases were loaded again.
Senior shortstop Blaze Chase then put the Pacers ahead for good with an RBI single; and another run scored on the play when the Austin rightfielder misplayed the hit.
Senior Collin Burgess knocked in the final run of the inning with an RBI ground out, and Switzerland County was ahead 7-4.
But the inning wasn't over.
Tanner Jones batted again and reached on an error, and Nelson Hughes drew a walk to load the bases for a third time in the inning; but no further damage could be done, and the inning ended with a ground out.
When the dust had settled from the offensive explosion, the Pacers had sent 13 batters to the plate and scored seven runs on six hits.
But Austin had not won three of the past seven Sectionals without overcoming some struggles.
The Eagles came back in the bottom of the fifth inning to score two runs off of Switzerland County starter Collin Burgess; and with the Pacers still holding a 7-6 lead, Coach Combs summoned Bob Tressler into in the game in relief.
He induced an Austin hitter to ground out to close the threat, and the Pacers came back to the plate for more offense.
In the top of the sixth, Hunter Jordan opened the inning with a walk; and Celby Kinney followed that with a single.
With two runners on, Kyle Konkle's laser off of the second baseman's glove scored Hunter Jordan; and another error moments later allowed Celby Kinney to score.
The final run for the Pacers came just after that, when Ryan Brubaker, who was running for Kyle Konkle, scored on back to back wild pitches.
From there, Switzerland County had things in control, and senior Blaze Chase called his teammates together just off of the first base bag prior to the start of the bottom of the seventh and expressed his confidence in his teammates.
"Let's go out here and do whatever we have to to win this game," he said. "Do whatever you have to for three outs, and then let's celebrate."
And celebrate they did.
Austin did manage one run in the last frame, but it was all academic, and when an Eagle grounder was picked clean and thrown on to first, the game was over and the Pacers were celebrating.
"I'm just so proud of these kids," Chad Combs said following the game. "They have worked so hard. These seniors started together in River Rat ball, and they've moved up through our system and worked hard. We had high hopes coming into the season, and our record really wasn't where we wanted it to be, but this team never gave up and they believed in themselves - and we're Sectional champions."
The Pacers now move on to Regional play, which will be held this Saturday, June 1st, at Southridge High School in Huntingburg, Indiana (the same location that the boys basketball Regional was played). The opponent has not yet been determined, but Switzerland County will play the 1:30 p.m. game.
The baseball regional is a four-team event, with the winners of two afternoon games playing for the Regional title on Saturday night.