Eagles go from 1-8 to surprise finalists

PONTOTOC – Caleb English’s frantic scamper around the bases in the bottom of the eighth nicely symbolizes the run West Union High School has made during the 2009 baseball season.
After singling to right to lead off the bottom of the eighth, English would score all the way from first base, on an infield hit by Hunter McQuary, to give the Eagles a 4-3 win over Ingomar on Monday night and a berth in the MHSAA Class 1A state championship series against St. Aloysius.
English scored on an out-of-the-ordinary play. McQuary grounded to Ingomar shortstop John Logan deep in the hole, where Logan then fielded the ball and fired across the diamond to first baseman Josh Conlee.
McQuary had already beaten the throw when English decided to head to third. Conlee’s throw to third would skip into shallow left field and English would run home with the winning run in Game 3 of this best-of-3 state semifinals series at Pontotoc High School.
“That was ridiculous,” English said of his winning run. “I knew Hunter was going to put it in play, but I just didn’t know where. He just happened to hit a hole.
“I gave it all I got and I’m still out of breath.”
The Eagles also made a long, intense run this season after starting out 1-8. The Union County team has won 17 of its last 21 games, and will play Game 1 of the Class 1A state championship series at 1 p.m. Thursday in Pearl.
Third-year West Union head coach Ashley Russell said his team played a very tough non-division schedule to get his team ready for the playoffs. That difficult schedule seemed to pay off for the Eagles (18-12) in Monday’s Game 3 against a very good Ingomar club.
“One of the greatest high school baseball games I have ever been a part of,” said Russell, who had tears in his eyes.
Russell’s squad had to overcome 6-foot-7 power pitcher Josh Hodges, who entered Monday’s game with a 12-1 record after beating West Union in Friday’s Game 2.
In front of two Major League Baseball scouts, one for the Baltimore Orioles and the other for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Hodges struck out 13 in going the distance.
However, four of the five hits the senior right-hander surrendered would hurt him, especially the two-run double to McQuary that put the Eagles ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth and, of course, the two hits in the bottom of the eighth.
“Probably not near his best performance of the year,” said Ingomar coach Andy Wilbanks, whose team finished its season at 24-5. “He struggled throwing strikes early on and he struggled with location early on.”
Despite allowing a two-run homer to John Logan in the second inning, Will Basil (9-4) pitched a solid game for the Eagles.
The sophomore right-hander pitched a complete game, striking out 15, while allowing five hits and nine walks.
“He didn’t try to do too much,” Russell said. “He did what he could do. He’s 5-0 in the playoffs now and he was just a warrior for us.”
The Class 1A state runner-up last year did get to Basil with one out in the top of the seventh when Tanner McCollum singled to right center to score Preston Broom with the tying run.
With still one out in the seventh, Basil would escape a jam with runners on second and third by striking out the next two hitters.
“We had the chance to win the game two or three times and we didn’t do it,” Wilbanks said.

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal