GARRETT – In the biggest moment of the baseball season so far, small ball came through for Leo.
The Lions scratched out six runs, four of them in the fifth inning, to beat Bishop Luers 6-2 Monday and claim the Class 3A Garrett Sectional title. It is the Lions' ninth sectional title and the first since 2012.
The game was tied at 2 heading into the fifth, when Leo senior Damien Gudakunst led off with a walk, stole second and went to third on a ground out. At that point, senior Quinten Peters laid down a bunt that gave Gudakunst just enough time to race home for the 3-2 lead. Peters was also safe at first.
“This team is as resilient as any I've ever had, they don't give up, they don't give in. They'll make mistakes, and they play through their mistakes,” Leo coach Gary Rogers said. “We talked about bunting all year long. It's the same game we've played all year long. So I'm proud of these guys.”
That run was all that Lions (28-3) would need to beat the Knights (22-9), but Leo kept the rally going. Seniors Coley Stevens and Alex Hoeppner each singled to load the bases before senior Michael O'Brien flied out to right for the second out. Senior pitcher Tyler Papenbrock then scored Peters with an infield single and senior Gannon Brown singled to score Stevens. Senior Braden Hicks walked to score the final run.
“Our seniors have stepped up game after game after game, and so now we're going to regionals, because of our seniors,” Rogers said, referencing the nine 12th graders on the Lions roster.
The Lions struck first in the second as Hoeppner led off and reached on a throwing error. Papenbrock followed with a one-out double to right that moved Hoeppner to third. Brown struck out, but Gudakunst knocked a ball to center, where it was dropped by the fielder charging the ball head-on. Hoeppner and Papenbrock scored on the play.
The Knights tied the game in the top of the fourth. Bishop Luers pitcher Lukas North led off with a walk, Cam Martinez singled to left for the Knights' first hit, and then he and North advanced on a wild pitch with Paul Birkmeier at the plate. Martinez and North each scored when Birkmeier crushed the ball almost to the warning track, where it glanced off the glove of the fielder.
Papenbrock, who finished the game one pitch short of the limit of 120, struck out 15 batters, including eight of the first nine Knights who came to the plate. He struck out the side in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings. He also shut down Bishop Dwenger in 41/3 innings of relief in the sectional opener on Thursday.
“After Thursday night, me and Coley flipped, so the plan was for me to go today, and I knew we didn't have anyone else,” Papenbrock said. “So I had to bear down and figure out a way to get this one done. I was just happy to compete, being out there and being in control.”