JERSEYVILLE – Hunter Bryant gave the Marquette Catholic High School baseball team a season-ending heartache Wednesday afternoon.
The Jersey High School catcher singled home the winning run with two outs in the seventh to give the Panthers a 6-5 victory over the Explorers in a regional semifinal game at Ken Schell Field.
“I was looking to get a hit and pick up my team,” Bryant said of his game-winner. “I never doubt my team. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. This team is special.”
Jersey’s come-from-behind win in the Class 3A semifinal propelled the 18-15 Panthers into the championship game. Jersey, the top seed, faces 22-10 at Highland at 11 a.m. Saturday. The second-seeded Bulldogs ousted Civic Memorial, 9-3 in Wednesday’s second semifinal. Marquette closed its season with an 18-12 record.
“It’s tough on the kids and a tough way to end the season,” Explorers’ coach Tim Fahnestock said of the heartbreaking loss. “We’re really a Class 2A team playing in Class 3A, but I thought we were very competitive.”
The Explorers led 4-1 in the fifth and 5-2 in the sixth, but couldn’t close out the gritty Panthers. Jersey scored a pair of unearned run in the sixth and then won it an inning later.
Jake Varble opened the Panthers’ seventh with a double off starter John Hughes. Max Goepel replaced him and got the first out. Then Chace Tallman singled for his third hit to tie the game.
Tallman, who was 3-for-3 and reached base four times, stole second base. One out later, Bryant singled him home to cap a 2-for-3 game. Goepel, the winning pitcher Monday in a shutout over Triad, absorbed the defeat.
“Finally, we got the big hit when we needed it,” said Jersey coach Darren Perdun, glad to see the Panthers’ change their fortunes in tight games. “Thank goodness we got it.”
He added, “We’ve lost seven one-run games this season and four of them have come in the seventh inning. But that’s the nature of baseball.”
Danny Holtz’s three-run home run in the fifth snapped a 1-1 tie and seemingly put the Explorers in good shape. They used Nate Siener’s RBI single to tie things at 1-1 in the fourth.
Tallman scored on a wild pitch in the second to give Jersey starting pitcher Crick Kimble a 1-0 lead. The Panthers didn’t score again until the fifth when Jacob Witt supplied a run-scoring single.
And they trailed 5-2 an inning later before mounting their comeback. Tallman’s single, Dylan Wilfong’s double and a throwing error enabled two runs to score. It was 5-4 Marquette, yet Jersey got within striking distance. The Panthers’ two-run seventh completed their successful comeback.
“We have Hunter batting seventh in our lineup to get us going,” Perdun said of Bryant's decisive hit.
Reliever Will Mortland replaced Kimble in the seventh and retired two batters to pick up the win.
“Some people say there’s no dominant team in this regional, but I think all of them are good teams,” Perdun said. The Panthers expect to pitch senior Jake Varble against Highland.
Perdun said, “We’re not 100 percent certain about pitching Jake on Saturday, but we are excited to be playing in the regional championship game. And we are excited about playing on our home field.”
Liam Maher, Brady McAfee and Siener all had two hits for Marquette. Fahnestock lauded his team’s play, particularly Hughes’ effort. The senior right-hander pitched six-plus inning, allowing nine hits and five runs, just two of them earned.
“John Hughes really stepped up for us,” Fahnestock. “He came out and did everything he could do.”
Saturday’s survivor advances to next Wedneday’s Salem Sectional and faces the Freeburg Regional winner. Regional champs from Effingham and Herrin also go to Salem.
CLASS 3A JERSEY REGIONAL
JERSEY 6, MARQUETTE CATHOLIC 5
Marquette 000 131 0 – 5 8 2
Jersey 010 012 2 – 6 10 1
Marquette (18-12) -- Danny Holtz 1-4 HR RBI-3, Liam Maher 2-4, Nate Siener 2-4 RBI, Brady McAfee 2-4 2B, Nick Messinger 1-3. LP – Max Goepel IP-.2 H-2 R-1 ER-1 BB-0 K-1; Hughes IP-6 H-8 R-5 ER-2 BB-0 K-5
Jersey (18-15) – Jordan Witt 1-4 RBI, Jake Varble 1-3 2B, Drake Kanallakan 1-4 2B, Chace Tallman 3-3 RBI, Dylan Wilfong 1-4 2B, Hunter Bryant 2-3 RBI, Michael Clendenen 1-3. WP – Will Mortland IP-.2 H-0 R-0 BB-0 K-2; Crick Kimble IP-6.1 H-8 R-5 ER-4 BB-1 K-6