By GREG MENGELT
For more than five innings, Silver Creek went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Jasper, and Dragon ace Lucas Barnett matched Wildcat ace Nick Gobert pitch for pitch.
However, Jasper scored four times in the bottom of the sixth to stave off the Dragons’ upset bid and moved on to the Jasper Regional championship with a 5-1 victory.
“I’m proud of these kids,” Silver Creek manager Joe Decker said. “They battle.”
Silver Creek upset the Wildcats a year ago and appeared to have it in mind again in 2013 until Devon Traylor and Ben Moore singled and Gobert walked to open the sixth. Traylor’s single went off of the glove of a diving Layne Taylor in center field. Moore’s single found the grass in front of Drew Sherrow in right field.
Mark Giesler followed with a bloop RBI single to give Jasper the lead for good.
“One hits off of the glove of our centerfielder and the other two were bloops in front of our rightfielder,” Decker recalled.
Austin Alles followed with a dribbler that Dragon shortstop Shae Durham fielded and threw home. His attempt to get Moore out at the plate sailed over Zach Spaudling’s head to allow Moore and Gobert to score.
A Cal Krueger squeeze play brought home Alles for the Wildcats’ fifth run.
Despite giving up the four runs, Barnett pitched a tremendous game. He allowed just four hits, walked two and hit a batter. He also struck out three Wildcats and had three 1-2-3 innings.
“I thought Lucas pitched great,” Decker said. “He had to to give us a shot. Every break went their way. We didn’t get a break the whole game.”
After a pair of scoreless innings, Silver Creek struck first in the top of the third — but it turned out to be a disappointing half-inning.
Drew Sherrow opened the frame with a bad-hop single off the glove of Krueger at second base. Cody Razer made it two-on and nobody out when Jasper shortstop Craig Shepherd bobbled his grounder.
Next, Taylor’s sacrifice bunt attempt became a bunt single when the Wildcats misplayed it. Creek had bases loaded, nobody out and the ball hadn’t left the infield.
Jamie Valvano drove home Sherrow for the Dragons’ only run on a sacrifice fly. When the ball left Valvano’s bat, it appeared that it would plate two runs or more, but Taylor tracked it down in center field.
Barnett followed with a squeeze bunt. Razer appeared to be safe at the plate but was called out. Gobert got Durham to ground out to end the threat.
“[The umpire] calling him out at home on the squeeze change the whole game,” Decker said. “Instead of first and third with one out, we’ve got two outs and we only get one run out of it. But [Jasper] did a good job getting out of it.”
Jasper answered with a run of its own in the third on a Moore RBI single to tie the game at 1-1. It would stay that way until the sixth.
The three-time defending sectional champion Dragons only lose three seniors — Valvano, Barnett and Taylor — but they may be the three most vital to the program’s success.
“All three of the [seniors] we have are three-year starters and some of them are four-year starters,” Decker said. “Obviously, they meant a lot to the program. They’ve been our leaders all season. Those are guys you don’t replace.
“It’s only three of them, but when you lose three guys like that, they’re hard to replace.
CLASS 3A JASPER REGIONAL
JASPER 5, SILVER CREEK 1
Silver Creek 001 000 0—1 3 1
Jasper 001 004 x—5 4 2
W — Nick Gobert. L — Lucas Barnett.
Records — Silver Creek 23-8, Jasper 30-3.