A strange seventh inning ended in jubilation Monday for the Central Cougars.
Senior Kolby Schulte’s two-out double, his third hit of the game, scored senior Jayce Timmermann from first base to give the top-seeded Cougars a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over seventh-seeded Newton in the championship game of the Class 2A Flora Regional.
“It was huge,” Central coach Kevin Crask said of Schulte’s game-winning hit. “He’s just one of those senior leaders who stays composed, stays relaxed. He knows what the job is. He got the job done. It’s a big pat on the back for him.”
It’s the second regional title in three years for the Cougars (25-6), who will meet Piasa Southwestern (22-11) in the semifinals of the Vandalia Sectional at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Southwestern blanked Staunton 4-0 on Monday to win the Wesclin Regional. The teams did not meet in the regular season.
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Newton led 4-3 entering the bottom of the seventh. Junior Tyler Malone singled to open the inning for the Cougars and advanced to second on senior Griffin Kruse’s sacrifice.
Senior Carter Truong doubled to center, but junior courtesy runner Lucas Wobbe — who was standing on second to tag up in case the ball was caught — was only able to advance to third.
Timmermann followed with what appeared to be a bloop single to left, but it wound up being a fielder’s choice as Wobbe scored the tying run but Truong was thrown out at third. Schulte followed with his double that scored Timmermann, who was running on contact with two outs.
“Central doesn’t have a lot of regional championships, so every one that you can win is special,” Crask said. “I think any coach would tell you that. But the way that we won and the way the seniors were able to carry this team ... That’s not to take anything away from the younger kids, because they contributed big-time.
“But the seniors that came in during that seventh inning, one after the other after the other, and did what they needed to do, I’m proud of them.”
Newton led 1-0 in the second and 2-0 in the third, but the Cougars scored twice in their half of the third to make it 2-2. The Eagles went ahead 3-2 in the fifth, only to see Central again deadlock the game with a run in the sixth on a passed ball. Newton took a 4-3 lead in the seventh, putting the Eagles into rally-or-go-home mode.
“We struggled a little bit at the plate,” Crask said. “We had 12 hits, but we couldn’t capitalize with multiple hits to put three or four (runs) on the board at any given time.”
Schulte was 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Truong was 2-for-3 with two doubles and a run scored.
Junior Dylan Wilson pitched the first 4 1/3 innings. He was relieved by senior Jack Strieker, who worked the final 2 2/3 innings and was credited with the victory.