A good scouting report helped Independent defeat Galena 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A baseball tournament at Tointon Family Stadium on Thursday.
Panthers pitcher Caden Springer expected the Bulldogs, with runners on first and third, to try and steal second base. So did second baseman Jeb Sauer, coach Jamie Fowler and other Panthers. Their combined poise made it easy to handle the situation with two outs in the final inning.
Springer tossed the ball to Sauer when he saw the Galena runner make his move and caught him in a rundown between first and second. Then Sauer calmly gunned down Michael Helton as he tried to score from third. The game ended with a tag at home plate.
“We practice that all the time,” Sauer said. “I was ready for it, obviously. I knew what they were trying to do and executed. There was a little more pressure with the game on the line, but I was ready.”
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Fowler put his team on alert from the dugout as soon as Galena put runners on the corners.
“We knew they were going to run it through all of our scouting,” Fowler said. “We talked about it before they ran it. That’s also something we work on every day, first-and-third plays.”
Few expected such a dramatic ending, given that top-seeded Independent entered with a 22-1 record while Galena was 12-11. But Fowler is glad things unfolded the way they did.
He thinks a close victory will help the Panthers more than a blowout as they shoot for a state championship on Friday. Making clutch plays in the quarterfinals could lead to more on Friday when they face the winner of Silver Lake and Oskaloosa in a 1:15 p.m. semifinal.
“When you get things too easy in the first round, maybe it doesn’t prepare you for the next round,” Fowler said. “It is better to win one gutting it out. It helps you mature.”
Independent had to fight the whole way. Galena scored its lone run in the first inning and played strong defense throughout. The Panthers answered with a run in the first, but didn’t reach home again until the sixth when Sauer led off the inning with a single and scored on three consecutive bunts.
It took a nice pitching effort from Springer to keep the game even until then.
“I just made the other team put it in play,” Springer said, “and my teammates helped me out.”
They helped the most in the final inning, when Galena tried to tie the game on what it thought would be a surprise baserunning move.
“We have a great second baseman with a strong arm,” Fowler said. “Most second basemen struggle with that throw, but ours has a pretty good arm. He had no problem making that play.”
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W: Springer. L: Little.