By Chris Parker
Seymour baseball made its first trip to the Final Four this year, and weather made the Tigers wait a little longer.
They were supposed to face Silex at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night, but weather postponed the semifinal until Thursday at 1:30 p.m. That also caused the cancellation of the third place game, which made the state semifinal a true win-or-go-home game.
“It has happened to me before. I was up here in 2015 with Norwood and we didn’t get to play in that third place game. That was hard especially for seniors that wanted that extra game. Knowing going into it that this is it, this could be our last game of the season played a little role. People have been telling us we have been playing with house money for the last month, so we were just going to roll with it and try to push the envelope and see what could happen,” Seymour Head Coach Jason Duey said.
That house money has the Tigers playing one more day after earning an eight-inning walk-off win 5-4 over Silex.
The game started out rocky for the Tigers with starting pitcher Brady Brooke giving up two first-inning runs and one second-inning run, which had Seymour in 3-0 hole early.
“Brady has been really locked the past three or four times he has been on the mound. Today he wasn’t. I thought the umpire had a good game, but it is different up here where the strike zone seems to shrink,” Duey said. “Brady threw some good pitches early that weren’t called and so did the other kid. It wasn’t one-sided. It was just a tight zone today. Brady has overcome a lot to get here. Part of that is his mental toughness. For a split-second I was worried he was going to revert back to what he used to do, but he didn’t. He has come too far to do that. The mental toughness of Brady Brooke really showed through tonight.”
Brooke’s mental toughness shined through as he got the Silex bats and his pitch count under control hold the Owls to just one run over his final five innings. Brooke would throw seven innings with four strikeouts and five walks yielding four runs, three of them earned, before he was lifted due to pitch count rules.
Offensively, Seymour chipped away.
The Tigers picked up their first run on a Scott Helms RBI single in the bottom of the second, as he drove in Nathan Baker. Helms had a big day going 2-for-4 with that RBI. He had just four hits all season coming into the game.
Silex would score one run in the top of the fourth to make it 4-1, but Carson Sturdefant would answer by bringing Baker home on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, Seymour quickly got two outs.
Then that house money proved it had yet to run out.
Brock Pearce made it all the way to second base on a throwing error to get things going with two outs. Baker brought Pearce home with an RBI single to left. He advanced to second on the throw home to get into scoring position. Keaton Owens reached on a fielder’s choice to get Baker to third, which also gave Seymour runners at first and third. Helms would then reach on another error and Baker scored to tie the game up at 4-4.
Seymour advanced the winning run to third base in the bottom of the seventh, but couldn’t bring it in which sent the game to extra innings.
Sturdefant came in to relieve Brooke in the top of the eighth. He struck out two in a scoreless inning to keep the game tied.
In the bottom of the eighth, Eric Helms singled through the left side on a 2-2 pitch to give the Tigers a base runner. He would advance to second on a wild pitch, which set the stage for Sturdefant at the plate.
“I was looking for a curve ball, but he gave me that fastball and just wanted to try and take it oppo (opposite field) because all game they had big gap over in right-center,” Sturdefant said.
Sturdefant sent the ball into that gap with the Silex centerfielder just missing a highlight-reel catch on a diving try. Helms beat a throw to the plate to score the game-winning run and give Seymour its first ever berth in a state title game.
“It is crazy emotion. I remember watching my sister play at state basketball. I wanted to be (on) that team that goes there (to state),” Sturdefant said. “He (Helms) is my cousin. We have been through everything together forever. I knew he was safe.”
Seymour will face Ellington for the Class 2 State Championship at 11 a.m. on Friday at CarShield Field in O’Fallon.
Sturdefant will be on the hill for the Tigers in the biggest game in program history.
“We have a lot of confidence in Carson because he has a lot of confidence in himself. During the middle of the game when things aren’t going our way, he is out there at shortstop dancing. That is just Carson. He is our energy. If he shows up down then the whole team reacts to that. They rely on him to get them going,” Duey said.
Seymour will focus on enjoying the moment tomorrow, as they try to stretch that house money all the way to an upset of the No. 1 team in the Class 2 state rankings.
“We were really tight today. We let a lot of opportunities go by because we weren’t ready for the moment. That is the message. Even on our team bracelets it says ‘love the moment’. That is what we have to do tomorrow,” Duey said. “We have to be proud that we are there, but that can’t be enough. We can’t just show up and say ‘it doesn’t matter what happens, we are here’. We have to be greedy. We are playing a very good team. If we allow the moment to be too big for us it isn’t going to go our way. If we show up, attack it, enjoy what we are doing and love every minute and not allow it to be too big then great things can happen tomorrow.”