It took 16 2/3 innings for the Metro East Bears offense to start rolling, but once they started scoring there was nothing Plover, Wisc., could do to stop the Bears from winning their Friday night elimination game in the American Legion Baseball Great Lakes Regional.
Heading to the bottom of the ninth down 3-1, the Bears rallied with the big hit of the inning coming off the bat of catcher Nick Paulda, who hit a deep double to left field that scored two and setup third baseman Drake Hampton for the game-winning single
“I think we (the Bears) really realized this last inning that our season was on the line and not one player on this team wants to stop playing,” Hampton said.
Despite the Bears’ offensive struggles, Paulda said he and his teammates never doubted the outcome of the game.
“We didn’t hit or score a run for I don’t know how many innings, and we knew it was going to come together eventually,” Paulda said. “We weren’t going out; we’re winners.”
Although the Bears were limited to seven hits, the key to their comeback was their ability to draw walks, leading to four pitching changes in the final two innings for Plover.
“We were on them all game,” Paulda said. “We had a couple of base hits, but we were getting base runners; we just didn’t get that progressive hit or progressive out. Once in the ninth, when we got some runners on, we turned it on and brought home a winner.”
Much like Aaron Jackson did in the Bears’ opener of the Great Lake Regionals, Hampton had a game-winning hit and was the victorious pitcher for Metro East on Friday.
Hampton, who pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief after starter Maverick McSparin started to wear down, held Plover to one hit while on the mound.
“I came in and didn’t come in as warmed up as I should’ve been,” Hampton said. “Coming in with a bases loaded, it’s always tough, but I think I found myself on the mound.”
Before his walk-off single, Hampton had one hit in the No. 1 spot in the Bears’ lineup during the tournament. Knowing this, Plover walked Anthony Kindle in front of Hampton, something Hampton did not take lightly.
“I definitely wanted to prove to all of them (Plover) — not really prove myself, because I don’t need to do that,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to show them that we could win. I just had that pitch in my mind, and it was the only one I was going to swing at.”
With the victory fresh on his mind, Hampton said he could not see the Bears losing during the rest of the regional.
“Honestly after this, I think we’re going to roll through (the tournament),” Hampton said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but there is so much momentum for us.”
The Bears play at 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. on Saturday against Midland, Mich. The game time is dependent on Midland’s 7 p.m. game against Madison, Wisc.