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Baseball: Hawks battle with backs against wall, stun Tigers

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BYRON – The Oregon Hawks stared elimination from the postseason in the eye with two outs in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 2A Byron Sectional title game. 

Byron’s Logan Rohr stood on the mound but, after getting two strikes on Adam Bettner, the imposing senior couldn’t put the batter away. He hit the junior on the hand with a pitch, triggering an improbable sequence that led to the Hawks tying the score to force extra innings, then winning 5-4 in eight.

Oregon (15-14) will play in Tuesday’s 2A Rock Island Supersectional against Eureka or Annawan-Wethersfield.

After Bettner reached, catcher Joey Rowe slugged a 2-2 pitch for a double. Bettner advanced to third. 

That brought up junior Tyler Blume, who worked the count to 2-2 before ripping a double into the left-center gap to tie the score at four.

“I wanted to be up there,” Blume said. “When you’re growing up, it’s what you always want. Coming up big for your team when they have confidence in you. I knew he was gonna throw anther curve, and I got the barrel on the ball.” 

Senior Alex Cain was on deck and knew his teammate was going to come through.

“I was standing on deck, and knew if anyone was going to get this hit, it would be Tyler,” Cain said. “He knew the pitch sequences and found a gap.”

The Hawks’ rally ended there, and Byron (22-10) went down in order in the top of the eighth inning. 

In the bottom half, Matt Murray led off with a single for the Hawks. After that, the wheels fell off of the Tigers’ defense. 

Ian Holley laid down a sacrifice bunt against reliever Nathan Peterson, who tied the school record for wins this season. Peterson couldn’t handle the ball, and it rolled through the grass, allowing Holley to reach. 

A dropped third strike that turned into a passed ball loaded the bases. 

That brought Mason Smith, a sophomore who started on the mound for the Hawks, to the plate. Smith hit a dribbler to the left of the mound. Peterson slid to the ball, but could not make a throw as Murray scored the winning run. 

Smith, who has only spent a couple of weeks on varsity, came up big both at the plate and on the mound for the Hawks. 

“We called on a pitcher that we really haven’t called on too much,” Oregon coach Adam Albrecht said,  “but I knew he throws strikes and battles. Both defensively and on the mound, we were solid today. That is the key for us right now.”

The Hawks struck first, scoring a run on fielder’s choice by Sawyer Reynolds with the bases loaded that scored Blume. Oregon tacked on another run with a RBI single by Murray.

Byron cut into the lead with a run in the third. 

Smith used some gold glove-caliber defense to escape jams. 

In the fourth, Byron’s Adam Reber ripped an 0-2 pitch back at Smith, who calmly stuck out his glove to catch the line drive and easily double off Rohr at second base.

In the fifth, Smith issued a leadoff walk, then forced a popout. Designated hitter Ben Reibel then hit a screaming line drive right back at Smith, who again calmly stepped out to reintroduce the ball to his mitt and again doubled off the runner at first.

“Those were pretty scary,” Smith said. “I’ve never had anything like that happen before.”

Byron scored two runs in the sixth after a single and two doubles to take a 3-2 lead and tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh to lead 4-2.

Oregon, which entered the postseason 10-14, climbed over the .500 mark, avenged two regular-season losses to Byron and won a sectional title, all in one fell swoop.

“I still can’t believe it’s real,” Smith said.

Star of the game: Mason Smith, Oregon, game-winning RBI; also 6 2/3 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 4 ER

Key performers: Tyler Blume, Oregon, 2B, 2 H, 2 RBI; Sawyer Reynolds, Oregon, winning pitcher.

Up next: 2A Rock Island Supersectional, Oregon vs. Eureka/Annawan-Wethersfield, Tuesday

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