HAMPSHIRE – From the second the ball left Nate Haacker's bat, he knew it was bound for beyond the wall at Hampshire's baseball field.
With Sycamore and Burlington Central tied in the bottom of the 10th inning of the Class 3A Hampshire Regional final, Haacker had worked a 3-1 count against Rockets pitcher Brenden Bushy. The Spartan senior had been in a little bit of a slump, as pitchers kept feeding him breaking ball after breaking ball to close the regular season.
Not this time.
Bushy hurled an inside fastball, and Haacker didn't miss, sending the pitch over the left-center field fence to give Sycamore a 6-5 win and its second straight regional crown. Haacker, a Bradley University signee, pumped his fist as he rounded second base and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate after a hard-fought, adversity-filled win. The blast was his ninth of the season.
"He threw me a pitch inside, and I crushed it," Haacker said.
Haacker wouldn't have gotten his chance without the effort of Sycamore (24-12) pitcher Colan Treml, who took over for starter Cole Nelson in the seventh and proceeded to throw four scoreless innings, striking out five in the process.
The Spartans looked like they would close the game out in the seventh, with Nelson taking the mound with a 5-2 lead. But after back-to-back Burlington Central (20-12) hits, the Rockets' No. 2 hitter, Jacob Schutta, parked one over the left-field fence.
Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh argued, and Haacker and Treml insisted the ball was foul after the game, but it was ruled a home run and the score was tied with nobody out.
"[The umpire] said it curved around the foul pole," Cavanaugh said. "It didn't curve around anything."
On came Treml, who after earning the victory over Genoa-Kingston in Wednesday's quarterfinal, walked the first batter he faced and had to pitch his way out of a two-out jam in the seventh before basically cruising the rest of the way and picking up his second win of the regional.
"It was exciting to come in, got an opportunity to pitch in that situation. Because that's what every baseball player lives for, to play in that situation," Treml said. "Everything was working for me when I came in."
Treml is known as a composed, even-keeled guy, and that's exactly what he showed for four innings when it looked like the Spartans' season may have just went down the drain.
"That's exactly [how Colan] was today. We could have melted down easily with that call. With that call on the foul three-run homer, we could have easily melted down," Cavanaugh said. "But I'm proud of our guys, the way we stuck with it, and continued to play the game. Just play the game. No umpire's going to change any calls, but you're just going to play baseball."
Sycamore will take on Kaneland in the Rochelle Sectional semifinals Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Knights defeated the Spartans two out of the three times they faced off in Northern Illinois Big 12 East play this season.