The Shelby-Osceola-Stromsburg Senior Rebels knew they were headed to the state tournament regardless of the outcome of the Area Tournament championship game on July 23 against Syracuse in North Bend.
Despite that safety net, SOS defeated Syracuse to finish the tournament 4-0 and win the championship. Since Syracuse was the host, the runner-up team in the bracket also advanced. The Rebels did one better and defeated Syracuse, earning the automatic bid.
Syracuse jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, before the Rebels tied it up in the top of the second.
SOS took the lead in the fourth inning with one run and added an insurance run in the sixth.
Syracuse scored one in the bottom of the seventh but left the bases loaded.
Bailey Belt started the game on the mound and pitched the first four innings before switching to shortstop. He then went back on the mound to close out the last inning. He tossed five innings in total, allowing two runs, one of which was earned, on three hits while striking out seven batters and walking one.
Colin Wingard relived Belt, throwing two innings, allowing one run on one hit, striking out four and walking four.
If SOS lost, the teams would have played in a second game to decide the Area champion.
"You have to be excited," said head coach Jeff Kuhnel. "You never want to go to a Game 2. We didn’t have the pressure on us, but you want to get it done in Game 1, and thank God we did. We made it interesting in the last inning, but we got it done still. We’ll take it."
The players were also relieved not to have to play a second game.
"(Getting the last out) was the best thing ever," Belt said. "We did not want to play another game. We wanted to save as much pitching as possible and get it done."
SOS gave up two runs in the bottom of the first on two singles, a walk, a hit batter and a passed ball.
In the top of the second, Grady Belt singled to right field and Max Hoatson hit a two-out single to score a run. Hoatson then scored on an error to tie the game at 2-2.
Neither team scored again until the top of the fourth. Hoatson was walked and then later scored on a two-out single by Wyatt Whitmore to take a 3-2 lead.
You have free articles remaining.
In the top of the sixth, Hoatson hit a lead-off single, Wingard was hit by a pitch and Jett Pinneo hit a sacrifice fly to take a 4-2 lead.
The Rebels faced a hairy situation in the top of the seventh. A lead-off single and two walks loaded the bases.
Bailey Belt left his post at shortstop to take the mound once again. A sacrifice fly cut the lead to 4-3 with only one out and bases loaded, but Belt kept his composure and forced two ground outs to seal the win.
"To start the game it was a little rough," Bailey Belt said. "It seems like I always get better as the game goes on, and coach pulled me actually because I was at my pitch count, almost. Then at the end of the game, we figured we had to win it to keep us in it. It felt good."
With a season full of ups and downs, Kuhnel wasn't sure if his team was going to make the state tournament.
"We were playing OK," he said. "Our defense has been good most of the year. Pitching had been strong, but we were only scoring one run in some games. You’re not going to win many games in legion ball if you’re only scoring one. We kind of got in a little string when that’s all we were doing."
SOS eventually found its rhythm and started hitting just in time to make a run in the postseason.
"I can’t really pinpoint it, other than here in that North Bend game we had zero runs," Kuhnel said. "We finally get to the sixth inning and we string together four and five hits. It kind of led to the next game where we could string a few. Hopefully, that will continue."
After winning the game, Kuhnel's message to the team leading up to state was a simple one.
"Enjoy it," he said. "A lot of these kids got to go the whole way last year (as juniors). They know what it’s like. It takes five good games. We know we’re going to play five good teams. We’re coming every night and you better be ready to play, because if you’re not, it’s not going to be pretty for you."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net