As he drifted toward the left-field corner in foul territory, it didn’t register to Heights junior Blake Carroll that the baseball game – and Heights’ season – was likely over unless he went against all of his instincts.
But as Carroll raced over and reached toward a foul ball, nearing the fence that separates the bullpen at Eck Stadium, it smacked off his glove and down to the turf.
An inning later, Heights claimed a 4-3, eight-inning win in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A tournament. Holden Hunsinger’s RBI single put the Falcons in Friday’s semifinals and erased several mistakes they made late in Thursday’s win.
One mistake Heights avoided was Carroll’s failed catch. If he had made the play with Salina South’s winning run on third base, it probably would have scored on a sacrifice fly. The positive ramifications of dropping the ball never occurred to Carroll.
“I didn’t think of it, but I’m sure glad I didn’t,” Carroll said.
No one else seemed to think of it, either. No one yelled toward Carroll to drop the ball and he wasn’t congratulated by teammates for his inadvertent awareness.
“If he makes that catch, they probably tag up and win the game,” Heights coach Jeff Topping said. “You never want to tell your kids to not play hard or to do something on purpose, but I’m glad he did drop it, and it definitely helped us.”
In the eighth, Heights catcher Holden Hunsinger drove home Bryce Boomsma with his third single in a four-inning span. Hunsinger’s offense from the No. 9 spot highlighted the improbability of Heights’ win after the Falcons were down to their final out in the seventh.
With two outs, Garrison Greer hit a ball just in front of the plate. Salina South catcher Austin Jensen’s throw went into right field, easily scoring Creighton Sanders with the tying run.
Right behind Sanders was Aaron Bechtel, who started from first base and never stopped running while Greer got in a rundown between first and second. Bechtel scored the go-ahead run for a 3-2 lead that didn’t make it beyond the bottom of the seventh.
“When I was rounding third, Coach Topping was kind of hesitant to send me (home),” Bechtel said. “But I don’t think anything was going to stop me. I wanted to score, I wanted that run.”
In the seventh inning, Carroll was picked off second, taking the tying run out of scoring position before Heights later scored two. In the eighth inning, after Salina South tied it on three hits, the Falcons couldn’t execute a squeeze bunt and a runner was thrown out at home.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of things right in those late innings,” Topping said. “…That was a crazy ballgame. Our guys never quit, they just battled and battled.”
4 8 1
3 9 1
W – Tate. L – Allen.