ALTON — In a do-or-die scenario, the Metro East Bears needed someone to step up on the mound. Enter Jordan Hovey — and Drake Hampton.
Hovey twirled a great game, helping lead the Bears to a 9-7 win over previously unbeaten Midland, Mich. on Saturday in the American Legion Great Lakes Regional at Gordon Moore Park. Hampton entered in relief to lock things down with a three-inning save.
With the win Metro East improved to 30-9 and will now face Madison, Wis. at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The winner of that game plays Midland at 4 p.m. for the chance to advance to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C. starting on Wednesday.
It's a new record in wins for an Alton Post 126 team. The Bears share sponsorship between Post 126 and Edwardsville Post 199.
With its fourth game in three days, Metro East manager Ken Schaake understood pitching would be at a premium and Hovey was the boost the team needed.
“It's mental on my part, but these kids have to come out mentally ready to play from the very first pitch,” Schaake said, celebrating his 62nd birthday with the win. “You cannot come out and wake up in the third inning. By then we were up 6-0. You can't afford to dig a hole for anybody.
“(Hovey's) got heart. He went out there and threw a fastball, curveball, change-up and that's what he was keeping them off balance with.”
Hovey went six innings, scattering nine hits, allowing seven runs, four earned while striking out five and walking four. Hampton threw three scoreless innings, surrendering two hits and fanning two for the save.
“I just wanted to pitch the best I could for my teammates and coaches,” Hovey said. “That's what I've been telling myself the last couple of days. My shoulder has been a little sore but I just wanted to give it my all for them and leave it all on the field.”
Hampton added about his relief work, “My arm was feeling good today, real good, better than I expected. I felt fresh and ready to go.”
On the other side, Midland hadn't lost a game entering Saturday and pieced together its pitching against the Bears. Manager Steve Cronkright was trying to set up his pitching for Sunday.
Midland is familiar with the depth of the regional tournament and beyond, it was runner-up in the World Series in '14 and won it all in '09.
“I used some of the guys we don't use very often and they did a really good job, but (Metro East) hit the ball really well,” Cronkright said. “I was impressed with how they swing it, but tomorrow we've got three guys left over and we'll be all right.”
The Bears exploded early with the bats, which had been pretty silent in the two previous games. After getting shutout Thursday night and not scoring until the eight inning against Plover, Wis. on Friday, Metro East erupted for seven runs over the first four innings against Midland.
Mitchell Krebs and Connor Melton had RBIs in the first inning to stake the Bears to a 2-0 lead. A two-run double by Hampton elevated it to 4-0 after two frames and a couple wild pitches allowed them to go up 6-0 after three. Krebs chased home Hampton with a grounder in the fourth to make it 7-0. In the top of the sixth Aaron Jackson ballooned it to 8-0 when he cranked a solo home run to left field.
Schaake thought Hampton's walk off hit against Plover helped put some life into the bats.
“(Hampton) is a competitor and you look at them all and they're all competitors,” Schaake said. “Not one of them wants to let the others guys down.”
Midland wouldn't go away quietly though. The bats woke up in the sixth, exploding for five runs to dwindle it to 8-5. Caleb Sommerville highlighted the frame with a two-run double.
“We let them get a little too far ahead, but we can swing it. We didn't early,” Cronkright said, who also celebrated his 62nd birthday Saturday. “Sometimes when you give up too many runs it's hard to get it turned the other way.”
Matt Zielonko answered though, muscling up for a towering homer to left to elevate the Metro East lead to 9-5. It proved to be key as Midland plated two more runs in the bottom of the seventh to cut it to 9-7.
Hampton entered in relief in the seventh and got out of trouble and then induced a double play ball and got a strike out in the eighth and pitching around a leadoff single in the ninth.
It allows the Bears to live to see another day and a chance to get to the World Series, which is all they want.
“We just want to win,” Hovey said. “Me personally, I don't want to lose more than I want to win. We played well today and got the win, that's all that matters and now we get to tomorrow.”
GREAT LAKES REGIONAL
METRO EAST 9, MIDLAND, MICH. 7
Metro East 222 101 100 — 9 8 2
Midland 000 005 200 — 7 11 1
BEARS (30-9) — Drake Hampton 2-6 2B SB 2 RBIs, Jordan Hovey 0-3 SB 2 BBs, Aaron Jackson 2-3 HR 2 BBs RBI, Mitchell Krebs 1-3 SB 2 RBIs, Connor Melton 1-4 2B RBI, Maverick McSparin 0-4 BB, Matt Zielonko 1-3 HR RBI, Nick Paulda 1-2 3 BBs, Anthony Kindle 0-2 BB.
WP — Hovey 6.0IP 9H 7R 4ER 4BB 5K
SV — Hampton 3.0IP 2H 0R 0ER 0BB 2K
MIDLAND (44-7) — Derrek Clyde 2-4 BB RBI, Connor Smith 1-4 BB, Cole Brooks 1-5 SB RBI, Carson Elby 1-4 BB, Michael Westley 1-5, Jordan Dopp 2-4 SB RBI, Ty Jones 2-3 BB RBI, Caleb Sommerville 1-3 2B 2 RBIs, Jordan Patty 0-3 RBI.
LP — Garrett Willis 2.0IP 4H 6R 6ER 2BB 2K
Dopp 1.1IP 1H 1R 1ER 3BB 0K
Clyde 5.2IP 3H 2R 2ER 4BB 5K