PEORIA — Chaos was on the brink of ensuing and the first person that Mitch Hardiek wanted to see was his catcher, Brady McMahon.
Meanwhile, all Clint Weber could think about at first base was fielding second baseman Tyler Runde's throw cleanly to ensure a win. Weber knew chaos and elation were about to converge just a hair in front of the pitcher's mound.
Pleasant Plain's Drew Washam hit a ball right to Runde with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Runde fielded it and threw it to Weber at first: Mission complete.
It was the final out in Teutopolis' 12-6 win over Pleasant Plains on Saturday night at Dozer Park in Peoria to win the Class 2A baseball championship.
Just in front of the pitcher's mound, before the rest of the Shoes rushed the field, Hardiek hopped into McMahon's arms and looked right at the dugout waiting for the dogpile he's been dreaming about since he saw the 2010 and 2011 Shoes teams do it to celebrate their state championship.
McMahon wrapped his arms around Hardiek and pointed his left hand to the players behind his pitcher, who were sprinting in from their position to celebrate.
Hardiek elected to hold back words while safely in McMahon's arms. Instead, he let the moment take him away. Cheers from the fans quickly made their way to the field and his mind raced at the thought he was a state champion.
"It was just exhilarating," Hardiek said.
Then the dogpile happened with Hardiek, a junior who pitched the final 1.2 innings while going 4-of-5 at the plate with four RBI and two runs scored, laying squarely at the bottom.
“It was awesome," Hardiek said. "I couldn’t hardly breathe, but it was awesome."
For Hardiek and Teutopolis (28-8-1) it was sweet, sweet redemption after losing in the state championship game to Spring Valley Hall last season. Then, Hardiek wasn't much of a contributor on the senior-laden team. He sat in the home dugout and watched the season end with a state runner-up trophy.
“It left a bad feeling in my mouth. I wanted to get this one," he said.
It's the fourth state championship in program history and second in three years. Hardiek was squarely at the middle of it.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, after Plains (26-12) had scored three runs and were within three runs of threatening to send the Shoes home with more heartbreak, T-Town coach Justin Fleener pulled starter Mitch Hemmen and send in Hardiek. On his second pitch, he inducted a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Corgan Greer and into Runde's glove at second. Runde flipped it to his shortstop, Dawson Smith, who stepped on second and fired the ball to Weber at first to skirt danger.
Officially, it read 6-4-3 in the scorebook, but acted as a blanket thrown on a growing flame.
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“That was one of the biggest plays of the game, for sure," Smith said. “I knew the kid was getting down the line pretty quick. He gave me a good feed and I transferred it as quick as I could."
Hardiek was just an example of yet another T-Town baseball player who stood in line and waited for the seniors in front of them to graduate before stepping into the spotlight. In two games in Peoria, he pitched 2.2 innings, allowing no runs with two strikeouts and drove in five runs at the plate.
“It was a big performance out of the young man," Fleener said. "At different times throughout the postseason and throughout the year, different guys stepped up. This weekend was Mitch Hardiek’s weekend. Today was big time."
There was certainly motivation after last season's loss in the state championship game. T-Town carried it with them the entire season. Not everyone was sure that the dynasty that has bused to Peoria for the state final four seven times in the last 10 years would make the familiar trip again.
Sure enough, on June 1, the Shoes were back at their home away from home.
“We used it as motivation," Weber said. "A lot of people thought it was going to be a weak year for us. They were asking if we were going to make it to state or even if we were going to make it out of sectional or stuff like that. That was motivation for us to prove them wrong."
The Shoes hammered out 17 hits against Plains and had five batters with multiple hits and eight different batters drove in a run.
Hardiek set the tone early with an RBI double that drove in Luke Ungrund to give the Shoes a 2-0 lead. The offense was enough to erase the threat of six errors coming back to haunt T-Town.
“It’s nice to get back to this point and we’re fortunate enough to win it," Fleener said. "It is hard to get back here. We used that as drive, but we knew it was going to be tough, all postseason to get back to this point. The guys got it rollin’ and the momentum started building, that confidence. In baseball if you have the combination of pitching, fielding, offense and that momentum starts rolling, good things are going to happen to you some of the time."
In fact, Smith may have inadvertently foreshadowed the state championship on Friday night. After the semifinal win against Rock Island Alleman, Smith walked out of the press room on the second floor of Dozer Park, a spot in the state title game in tow, and said one simple sentence.
"This is a lot better than basketball, isn't it," he asked, referencing a super-sectional loss to Nashville in March.
On Saturday, he stood in the visitors dugout, gold medal around his neck with his arms resting on the railing.
Yes, it was a much better ending for the senior.
“Going out on top, it’s one of the greatest things about playing this game, when all the hard work pays off," Smith said.