Civic Memorial’s Jaxsen Helmkamp came through with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Eagles a wild 11-10 victory over the Waterloo Bulldogs in the championship game of the Class 3A Columbia Regional on Saturday.
The Eagles had to overcome a lot to claim their first regional title since 2004 — and just the third in school history:
▪ Waterloo’s Erik Kaiser staked his team to a 5-0 lead with a two-run home run in the opening inning and a three-run blast in the third.
▪ The Eagles later watched a 10-5 lead evaporate in the top of the seventh inning, when the Bulldogs scored four times before play was stopped because of nearby lightning with the bases loaded and just one out.
▪ The teams then had to wait out a 95-minute delay, and upon the resumption of play, Nathan Albrecht promptly singled off Corey Price, the fourth CM pitcher of the inning, to knot it at 10.
Price retired the next two batters to keep it tied and set the stage for Helmkamp’s big hit.
In the bottom of the inning, Waterloo’s Lucas Goodsell retired the first two batters, but CM lead-off hitter Brandon Hampton worked his way through an impressive seven-pitch at-bat — fouling off three tough pitches in a row — before lining a double to the gap in left-center field.
This brought Helmkamp to the plate, and on the second pitch he saw, the senior lofted a ball to mid-left center that the diving Waterloo left fielder almost came up with.
Hampton had scored well before the ensuing throw home had reached the plate.
“He threw me a curveball on the first pitch, which I took for a ball,” said Helmkamp, “so I thought he would give me a fastball, and I was sitting on that. He gave me another curveball, so I was out in front of it a little bit.
“It was not my best at-bat of the day, but it fell in, and that is all that matters.”
With the win, CM (27-10) advances to the Salem sectional, where it will play Mount Vernon at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Rams (26-9) advanced with a 4-0 win over (Metropolis) Massac County on Saturday in the title game of the Carbondale regional.
“We knew when we got down five it was not over, and I am sure they were the same way when they were down five,” said first-year Eagles coach Nick Smith. “I think we were just fortunate to be the team with the last at-bat.”
For Waterloo, it was the fourth and fifth innings that more than anything helped end its season.
CM scored four runs in the fourth with all of the offense coming with two outs. The Eagles then plated six in the fifth, highlighted by a two-run, pinch-hit double by Colin Overmeyer and capped by a grand slam from Price.
The Eagles were helped by seven walks over those two innings, along with a hit by pitch and an error by the third baseman.
“There are just too many things during those fourth and fifth innings that we will be kicking ourselves for,” said Waterloo coach Mark Vogel, whose team bows out at 26-9. “But that’s the game and why you have to come out and play it every day.
“Give their coaches and players credit. They made one more play than we did.”
Smith called the victory a microcosm of the Eagles’ entire season.
“All year long, we’ve been resilient,” said Smith. “We started our conference season 1-2, had our backs against the wall and came back to win the league.
“Today was like that, too. It’s just the kind of players these kids are.”