HAMILTON – Caleb Hanley had just enough left in his arm to help Bruce make history.
For the second day in a row, the senior right-hander got the best of Hamilton, hurling a strong 42/3 innings in a 6-5 Bruce win on Saturday to clinch the Class 2A North Half series in three games.
The victory sends Bruce (24-6) to its first ever state finals. The Trojans will play Richton for the 2A title.
After throwing seven innings on Monday and six in Friday’s 10-0 win, Hanley gave up three runs on seven hits, struck out two and walked one on 56 pitches.
He didn’t have to do much to convince fifth-year coach Sid Burt to hand him the ball again.
“He didn’t really want me to go out there, but he told me if I wanted it, I could have it,” Hanley said. “I mean, senior year, what else could you ask for than a chance to go to the championship game?”
He’s Bruce’s only senior and has witnessed the growth of a program that once saw fewer fans at home games than its robust turnout at Hamilton on Saturday.
In Burt’s third year, Bruce made the playoffs and lost in the first round, then reached the second round last season.
And beating Hamilton, which owns three state titles, made it extra special for Burt, who never beat the Lions as a player at Houlka High School.
“We wanted to beat Hamilton to get there,” Burt said. “Their program, you can see all these signs up here and what they’ve been able to do. Maybe one of these days we can do something close to that.”
Bruce and Hamilton (21-5) are division foes, with the Lions winning both regular-season meetings and then Game 1 of the series. But Hanley and the Trojans won 10-0 on Friday and pounded out 13 hits in the finale.
Every one of Bruce’s starters had at least one hit.
“I didn’t expect that,” Burt said. “Their pitching is really good; it’s the best we’ve seen this year.”
Hamilton starter Chase Reeves (1-2), who’s seen his mound duty limited this season by injury, was chased after four innings and his team down 5-3.
It was a 2-2 game when Bruce tallied three in the third. Hanley’s RBI single gave his team the lead, and Tiny Moore stroked a two-out, two-run double.
Hamilton missed a golden opportunity in the fifth after Hanley left. Reliever Jay King, a sophomore, walked the first batter he faced to load the bases but then induced a force-out to end the threat.
Hamilton led off the seventh with back-to-back homers by Kevin McCartney and Dylan Earnest, but King set down the next three hitters to earn his second save and set off a jubilant celebration next to the mound.
Earnest had two home runs and a double for the Lions, and Devin Hopper homered as well.
Hamilton managed nine hits but took a lot of early swings against Hanley.
“We hit a lot of balls, but we hit a lot of balls right at them,” Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said. “Just too little, too late.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal