After rallying from three runs down to take the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, it appeared the Charlestown baseball team had finally found a way to end Silver Creek’s sectional dominance.
The Dragons, however, never believed it for a second.
“That’s what we talked about all week — no matter what happens, no matter what the score, we never feel like we won’t come back and we never feel like we can’t win the game,” said Silver Creek coach Joe Decker. “This team has a lot of experience, and they’ve all been here before. We never felt like we weren’t going to win.”
Right on cue, the Dragons took back all the momentum with five runs in the top of the fifth inning and never looked back, beating Charlestown 9-6 in the finals of the Class 3A Madison Sectional at Gary O’Neal Field on Monday night. The win also continued Silver Creek’s amazing streak of four consecutive sectional championships and advanced the Dragons to the Jasper Regional, which will be played on Saturday.
“We’ve just been blessed with a great coaching staff and some great talent and we’ve always trusted each other,” said Silver Creek senior Shae Durham, who has been a starting pitcher and shortstop — and a sectional champion — all four years of his high school career. “It feels good that we’ve accomplished something that no one else has ever done at Silver Creek.”
Still, Charlestown managed to push the Dragons as hard as anyone has in recent sectional history. In what was a stark contrast to the regular-season meeting between the Mid-Southern Conference rivals — an easy 9-1 Silver Creek victory — the Pirates didn’t blink even after the Dragons plated three runs in the top of the first, instead slowly chipping away to take the lead.
Down 3-0 heading into the Pirate half of the second inning, Charlestown got a base hit from Colin Martin and an RBI double from Jason Houchens to get on the scoreboard.
One inning later, center fielder Alex Smith smashed a triple off the top of the wall in center to set up the biggest hit of the game to that point. With two out, Charlestown left fielder Ryan Jones crushed a monster home run to dead center that brought the Pirates out of the dugout, brought the Charlestown faithful to its feet and tied the score at three.
The next Charlestown at-bat was even bigger, with Martin leading off with a double down the third-base line, moving to third on a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Houchens, and scoring on a bunt from Dewey Cardwell for a 4-3 lead.
It was a momentum-grabbing play. And it quickly came to a halt.
“It obviously hurts,” said Charlestown coach Ricky Romans, whose team fell to the Dragons in the sectional final for the second straight year. “We put up six runs, and we felt that should have been enough to win the game. We knew we could play with them and we felt we could win, we just made too many errors and had too many walks. I have to tip my cap to them — they took advantage of every mistake we made and good teams do that.”
Those mistakes finally began to pile up in the Silver Creek half of the fifth, where Durham — who hit an RBI double during Creek’s opening burst — reached on an error. Cameron Cook then drew a walk from Reich to set up Brayden Ware’s RBI double that rolled to the wall in left center and scored Durham, leaving Cook on third.
Brooks Howell then drew another walk to load the bases and set up Graham Jones for a double to right field that brought home three runs and put the Dragons firmly back in control. Drew Sherrow would later lay down a sacrifice bunt to score another run and make it 8-4 and Charlestown would never truly recover.
The Charlestown ace, Reich had a bit of an off night. The junior tossed 4 2/3 innings, surrendering four hits with two strikeouts. He also issued eight walks and Silver Creek would be issued 11 free passes between Reich and Martin, who entered in the fifth inning and handed out three more walks in 2 1/3 innings of work.
The Pirates tacked on another run in the fifth, as Reich scored on a grounder by catcher Daniel Sprinkle, and made things at least somewhat interesting in their final at-bat. Needing four runs to tie, Sprinkle tacked on an RBI double that scored Reich with two out and Martin was hit by Dragon reliever Durham, who entered in the third inning for starter Logan Murphy. Durham struck out six in his 4 1/3 innings, giving up six hits.
With runners on first and second, Durham ran it to a full count against Houchens, who nearly walked to load the bases and put the tying run on first. But Houchens flew out to right field, setting off yet another sectional celebration for the Dragons.
Charlestown saw four seniors play their final game in a Pirate uniform, as shortstop Jordan Hensley-Cole, Sprinkle, Darren Taylor and Smith will move on. That should still leave an experienced an hungry group for the Pirates, eager to accomplish what Silver Creek has.
“We feel very good about what we have coming back next year,” Romans said. “But this has been a special season and a special group of seniors. It hurts, but every team except one has their season come to an end like this. This team came together well and accomplished a lot and we’re going to keep working to get things going and try to do the things that Silver Creek has done.”
There were plenty of smiles on the faces of the Silver Creek players, but many of them spoke about wanting more. After being stopped in the regional round the past three seasons, Durham thinks this could be the team that takes the next step.
“The last couple of years, we’ve had a chance, but it’s different this year,” Durham said. “We’ve got Cook, who can shut down anybody. All of us seniors have been playing together since T-ball and all that chemistry adds up and means something.
“We know we have a chance. We believe.”
To that end, Decker has had the Dragons wearing the number seven on their practice jerseys. Seven is the amount of wins it takes to win the state title. The Dragons have kept the number posted, and watched it drop as they dispatched three opponents in the sectional round.
“The sectionals are always a lot of fun,” said Cook, a junior who won his third straight crown with the Dragons. “But we have bigger goals than that. Since the very beginning [of the season], we’ve had a big, big goal of winning [at state]. We feel like this is our year.”
CLASS 3A MADISON SECTIONAL
SILVER CREEK 9, CHARLESTOWN 6
Silver Creek 300 050 1—9 5 2
Charlestown 012 110 1—6 11 3
W — Durham. L — Reich. 2B — Jones (S) 2, Ware (S), Durham (S), Houchens (C), Sprinkle (C), Martin (C). 3B — Smith (C). HR — Jones (C).