BIG ROCK – It was a true lesson in leaving the past behind you.
Hiawatha seniors Taylor Edwards and Gage Grant each had a tough start to Wednesday afternoon's IHSA Class 1A Regional semifinal against host Hinckley-Big Rock.
However, their perseverance helped the top-seeded Hawks advance to Saturday's championship game after a come-from-behind 5-4 victory in eight innings over the No. 4 Royals at Kenny Field. Hiawatha defeated H-BR in last season's title contest to earn the school's first baseball regional plaque.
Grant shook off a pair early fielding errors and strikeouts to deliver the clutch two-run, game-winning single. Edwards went seven-plus innings on the mound, scattering seven hits while striking out seven after giving up a three-run home run to H-BR second basemen Dutch Schneeman in the top of the first inning.
“The thing I'm the happiest about for an individual on our team is for Gage being able to come up with that hit,” Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly said. “He had a couple errors in the first two innings and was really down on himself, but for him to produce when we needed it the most was great to see.”
Hiawatha (11-9) trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth and No. 5 hitter Bart Hall led off the frame by lacing a double to right-center off H-BR starting and losing pitcher sophomore Jacob Morsch (7.1 innings pitched, 10 hits, four earned runs 2 walks, 12 strikeouts). Edwards was then plunked by a Morsch pitch and both runners moved up on stolen bases before Grant lined a one-out, 2-2 pitch to right and was mobbed on the field by his teammates.
“Yeah, two errors and two strikeouts, probably one of my worst games ever,” Grant said. “Coming up there in the eighth, down one, with guys on second and third – I just knew I had to come through. That's the only thing that was going through my mind, get a hit.”
Edwards was solid after the opening inning, allowing just five hits after that before being relieved by Nick Doolittle, who finished the eighth with a strikeout and double play on a failed H-BR suicide squeeze attempt.
“I knew I had to bear down and trust my teammates,” Edwards said about his thoughts after the first. “They have been there for me all season and it wasn't any different today. After the first inning I really concentrated on getting my hips rotated, that helped me through the rest of the game. At the end I was really tired, but I knew I had to gut it out.”
The Hawks tied the game at 3-3 in the fifth as Morsch fanned the first two hitters, but Doolittle and Adam Spear singled, then scored on a booming triple to center off the bat of Will Corn. Corn then scored three pitches later on a seeing-eye single to left from Mike Mercado.
H-BR (10-11) took the lead again in the top of the eighth as Schneeman walked to open the inning. Hunter Seierstad then laid down a bunt, but the throw to first was wide, allowing Schneeman, who was running on the pitch, to come all the way around to score to make it 4-3.
The Hawks will now look to earn their second consecutive regional championship on Saturday at 11 a.m.
“We were down, but the kids battled back and never gave up,” Donnelly said. “We were down 3-0 early and then 4-3 with three outs to go. The thing was it wasn't the top of our lineup coming up (in the eighth), it was the middle and those guys produced. To see them come out and do that, to play as a team, was unbelievable.”