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Second round goes to Seneca

Seneca coach Kirk Houchin talks to his team during a mound visit on Wednesday.
Seneca coach Kirk Houchin talks to his team during a mound visit on Wednesday.

COAL CITY — It was a tense moment. Coal City was trailing by two runs at home against Seneca, but had the bases loaded with nobody out. Fighting Irish coach Kirk Houchin handed the ball to relief pitcher Brian Bergeson and was rewarded when he retired all three batters he faced to preserve the win.

Bergeson’s effort saved a win for starter and former Coalers’ pitcher Josh Rohder and an 8-7 win over the hosts at John H. Cullick Field.

It was obviously the most pivotal moment in what was a highly entertaining game between the two Interstate Eight Conference and division opponents. Almost as obvious were the responses of the two head coaches.

“Can’t say enough about Brian Bergeson,” Houchin said. “He came in with the bases loaded and got out of it with only one run scored. He did a nice job.”

Nate Natyshok, Dylan Hakey and Joey Quinn had all walked to start the inning, which signaled the end of the day for Rohder.

“He’s a gutsy kid. He got hit in the ankle in the first inning and had trouble standing on it. Then he tells me he has nine in him,” Houchin said. “I think jitters got to him a little bit in the seventh and he just couldn’t find the strike zone. Then I went out to take him out and he talked me into leaving him in for the next batter. Even though he walked him … you’ve got to like somebody who wants to finish the game.”

Bergeson came into the game and immediately struck out sophomore catcher D.J. Budde, got Alex Wills to ground into a fielder’s choice with the play being made at third (in which Natyshok scored) and he then struck out Brennen Shetina to end the game.

“There at the end there, we need someone under pressure to come through and put the ball in play and we score a run,” Coal City coach Jerry McDowell said. “Strikeout, strikeout is what we got.”

Brad Littleton took the loss but McDowell said that defensive lapses really marred his game.

“We’re kind of fading under pressure a little bit. It seems like the same things keep happening every game this year,” he said. “We’ll have a bad inning where we don’t block a ball on a groundball, miss a popup at first base, tried to tag a runner and short hopped a ball instead of playing back, catching it on a hop and getting the runner at first. Same thing in the sixth inning. An error in centerfield, the middle infielders didn’t block it and the center fielder didn’t come in fast enough to back it up. We made five mental errors there and gave away some cheap runs.

Seneca went up 1-0 in the first inning when Logan Pifer singled and stole second. Trent Nugent sacrificed him to third and then Bergeson reached on an error. Coal City tied the game in the bottom of the second when Hakey singled and stole second. Hakey then walked and the two pulled off a double steal. Budde then hit into a fielder’s choice to short to plate Hakey with the tying run.

The Fighting Irish took the lead right back in the top of the third inning with the big blow being a three-run homer off the bat of Brian Bergeson. Pifer had walked in front of him and Nugent singled. Ryan Schuetz then walked, went to second on a wild pitch, to third on a groundout and scored on another wild pitch.

Still Coal City had an answer.

Littleton led off the bottom of the third with a home run and one out later, Lane Cowherd singled. A wild pitch then sent him to second and another wild pitch sent him to third. Natyshok then collected the RBI single, Hakey and Quinn followed with walks and one out later Alex Wills got a two-RBI single to re-tie the game at five.

Coal City then took a short-lived 6-5 lead in the fifth when Natyshok singled, stole second and eventual scored on an RBI single by Budde.

“We got up and then they came back and we didn’t lose our composure,”  Houchin said. “We stayed in there and held them for two or three innings and then got some runs.”

Seneca got its final runs of the game in the top of the sixth when the Fighting Irish scored three times. With two outs, Pifer singled, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by the catcher. Nugent then singled him home. Brian Bergeson and Schuetz then walked to load the bases. That signaled the end of the day for Littleton as Wills came on in relief. However, Hamilton walked to force in a run and Alex Applebee reached on an error to allow the final run to be plated.

That to set the stage for the dramatic seventh inning.

Pifer was 3-for-3 with three runs scored for Seneca in the contest. He said he was glad to see the Irish hit the ball like they did.

“We played pretty solid. The bats came to life,” Pifer said. “I think we’ve had five hits in the last two games, so it was nice to get the bats going. I think that was the biggest key as to why we won the game today.”

Seneca had seven hits in the game but also worked in eight walks. On the other side, Coal City had seven hits and drew six walks. In a game with so many baserunners, defense was the most obvious key to victory.

“Our outfield play was outstanding. We had three nice catches out there,” Houchin said. “And Brent Bergeson, even though he did not have the day at the plate that he wanted, he didn’t take that out to shortstop with him, and he made a nice play deep in the hole late in the game. A lot of guys would have been hanging their head and not made that play, but he made a key defensive play there.”

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