SPRINGFIELD — Charleston was one pitch from escaping.
One pitch, and Charleston’s out of a bases-loaded jam and in favorable position to close out a low-scoring win.
“We’re coming into the dugout and have to get six outs and win a game 2-1, or even get more runs,” Charleston coach Derrick Landrus said.
Chatham Glenwood, though, spoiled that one offering and dashed Charleston’s sectional final hopes. Jake Jurgens, Glenwood’s cleanup hitter, poked a 2-2 fastball from Caleb Hurst into right-center for a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth inning.
“It looked down in the zone, the guy didn’t absolutely tattoo it,” Landrus said. “He just went down and got it, drove it into center.”
And with starter Gavin Wahlbrink in a groove, it was all the Titans needed.
Charleston’s season came to an end Wednesday with a 6-2 loss to Glenwood in the Springfield (Sacred Heart-Griffin) sectional semifinals. The Trojans finished with a 24-12-1 record after winning their first regional title since 2008.
“You have to do everything right to win a sectional game, and maybe we missed a thing or two,” Landrus said. “They were a little bit better than us today. But we were right there.”
Glenwood will play the winner of Wednesday's second sectional semifinal between Effingham and the host Cyclones. The Hearts led 3-2 in the third when lightning delayed the game. It restarted at just after 9 p.m. and didn't finish by the Herald & Review's press time.
Wednesday won’t go down as one of Charleston’s best games. The Trojans mustered just three hits and four total baserunners. Glenwood’s three-run fifth began when No. 8 hitter Jake Curtis reached on an error. Charleston did enough, though, to be in a favorable position for most of the game and come within that one pitch of escaping the game’s biggest scoring threat.
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“It’s frustrating, disappointing too,” shortstop Jake Wilson said. “You’re expecting to have a lead going into the inning. But it’s baseball, and it can change at any time.”
The fateful fifth inning felt relatively harmless until an infield single and walk with two outs loaded the bases for Jurgens. His hit gave Glenwood a 3-2 lead it never relinquished and later enhanced. The Titans added another run on Wahlbrink’s single, but Keagan Brady threw out a runner trying to score from second to end the inning.
Charleston scored its two runs in the third inning, the first on a Cory Spour RBI double. Spour took third on a Wilson groundout and scored on a two-strike wild pitch with two outs to give the Trojans a 2-1 lead. They were riding the momentum of their regional title and making slick defensive plays. In the fourth, Spour charged a bunt and made a running throw to first for an hour, and Wilson snagged a sharp liner to end the inning.
“I thought, man, maybe we’re going to be able to do this,” Landrus said.
Afterward, though, Charleston managed two hits. Wahlbrink set down 10 straight hitters after allowing a single to Brady to begin the fourth, and at one point during that stretch, he racked up five consecutive strikeouts.
“You could see in about the fourth or fifth he was really getting better,” Landrus said.
Hurst kept Glenwood hitters guessing by effectively mixing his curveball and fastball. He frequently dropped in the curve for first-pitch strikes, starting it behind right-handed hitters so it could catch the inside corner. This wasn’t an instance of making an entire lineup look foolish, as he has done before. Rather, he struck out just three, but induced weak contact and allowed three hits through four innings.
“He was doing great pounding the zone, making guys hit into outs,” Wilson said.
Not his career-best, though plenty good enough for the game to hang in the balance of one late-inning pitch and bring about some reasonable what-ifs.
“But you never know for sure,” Landrus said. “They’re good.”