Another day, another Warriors walk-off win and another failed dog-pile attempt.
Matt Searson's two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Corbin Morgan from third and propelled New Covenant's Kardiac Kids to the Class 1 quarterfinals.
The 3-2 victory over District 8 champ Macks Creek capped a two-run, seventh-inning comeback and marked the second walk-off victory in a row. The Warriors won the District 7 title over Walnut Grove in an eight-inning, 2-1 classic.
Postgame celebrations aside, nothing came easy for the second-year program.
Down 2-1 and needing some late-game heroics, New Covenant turned to some familiar faces.
With two outs and the bases loaded, district hero Silas Siebert turned a 3-2 count into a nine-pitch battle, fouling off three straight before punching a slow roller down the line to score Ian Poe and tie the game.
While Macks Creek third-baseman Austin Bryner corralled Siebert's grounder, he was unable to beat the speedy Morgan to third for a final force out play on the bag.
New Covenant head coach John Hartley was quick to praise the clutch-hitting Siebert who, once again, kept the Warriors' postseason run alive with his bat.
"That kid doesn't crack," Hartley said. "You could tell there were no nerves in him. He battled the whole at-bat and got us tied. I was very confident, after we got it tied, that we wouldn't see the top of the eighth."
With the score tied 2-2, New Covenant's starting pitcher wasted little time. Searson ripped the second pitch into the outfield and sent the Warriors to the quarterfinals.
"I'm not sure I breathed during that at-bat," Searson said. "Coach looked in at the beginning and just said, 'line drives.' That's been kind of a joking phrase throughout our team all year. I just wanted something through the infield, and I had faith in myself and the team to get the job done."
Searson also worked four innings on the mound for New Covenant, finishing with five strikeouts and five hits. Early on, the game had all the makings of a classic pitchers' duel, as both Searson and Macks Creek's Gage Mashburn retired the side in the first inning.
In the second, Macks Creek roughed up the right-handed Searson a bit.
Sophomore Cameron Charlton smashed a 1-1 pitch over the left center fence for a leadoff home run, and then five batters later, junior Jesse Linton scored from third on a squeeze play to give Macks Creek a 2-0 lead.
Despite the runs, Hartley was comfortable with Searson's early efforts.
"The guy got on good fastball and gave it a ride," Hartley said. "There's nothing you can do about that. Then they strung three hits together and did a great job of executing a squeeze to get their second run. We didn't give them anything. They earned both of their runs."
In the fifth, Hartley brought in hard-throwing Cody Malan to relieve Searson. Malan, a Central Methodist University commit and Springfield's high school baseball MVP, entered the game and promptly struck out the side.
Hartley didn't think twice about going to his ace down the stretch.
"Matt's pitch count was already up because of a lot of 3-2 counts," Hartley said. "We had two or three guys we could have went to, but you don't have a next round if you don't stop them right there. We needed them to stay at two, and we were confident Cody would keep them there."
"Keep them there" might have been an understatement.
Over the final three innings, Malan was perfect in relief, recording seven strikeouts and retiring nine straight Macks Creek hitters to give the Warriors a final-inning opportunity.
Searson's game-winner attracted quite the entourage as the senior ran down the line.
Instead of haphazardly running amok on the field as they did last week, New Covenant's players streamed out of the dugout and chased Searson around first base. While it looked more like a kindergarten soccer scrum than a walk-off dog-pile celebration, Hartley remained loose and upbeat concerning his team's celebratory antics.
"We're getting better at it," Hartley said. "That was pretty good. I think all of them are just enjoying the ride right now. You know that old adage … we're living the dream, and we're living it large. We move on to die another day."
Up next for the Warriors is a May 25 quarterfinal clash with the Lockwood/Hurley winner; however, weather is already throwing a wrench into the schedule. The 0-0 game was suspended after the first inning due to weather and will be completed on Tuesday in Forsyth.
New Covenant – 3, Macks Creek – 2
Macks Creek 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 — 2
New Covenant 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 — 3