For a team in just its second year of existence, and playing in the state tournament for the first time, the Saxony Lutheran Crusaders sure didn't act the part.
Rather, the Crusaders looked like a group of seasoned veterans as they knocked off the homestanding Thayer Bobcats 14-6 in the sectional round of the Class 1 Baseball Tournament May 24.
The loss to Saxony Lutheran keeps the Bobcats from advancing to the state quarterfinals for the third straight year, and from moving on to the Final Four in Columbia, where they finished third in the state, for the second consecutive time.
After winning their district tournament by scoring in double figures in all three games, the Crusaders' late-season offensive roll continued in the sectionals, as Saxony Lutheran (14-6) erased an early deficit with four runs in the third before grabbing control of a close contest with five runs in the top of the sixth. For the game, the Crusaders rapped out 15 hits, while Thayer countered with 10.
But it was the Cats (17-7) who posted the first runs of the afternoon by crossing the plate twice in the home half of the second.
Dustin Gaines recorded Thayer's first ribbie of the day with a single to right that plated Justin Brown giving the Cats a 1-0 lead. Gaines also played a part in Thayer's next run that came one batter latter.
With Ben Martin in the box and Garrett Smith (two hits) on third, Gaines had his eyes on a steal of second. The pickoff attempt sailed over the second baseman's head and Smith slid safely into home on the overthrow to push the Bobcats on top 2-0 after two.
Saxony Lutheran grabbed the lead in the third by picking up four runs off Bobcat starter Eric Williams. Williams worked three innings, giving up five hits while issuing two walks (one intentional) and striking out one.
Williams helped Thayer get one of those runs back in the bottom of the third on a hit that found its way past second, scoring Jacob Eckman in the process. Eckman had moved from first to third earlier in the frame on a fielder's choice from John Tollenaar.
The fourth inning was a good news/bad news thing for the Bobcats.
Justin Brown replaced Williams on the hill for Thayer and immediately found trouble as the first three Crusaders reached base to juice the sacks with no outs.
The good news was Saxony Lutheran's Dustin Roth then hit into a 1-2-3 double play on a liner back to the mound for a pair of quick outs.
The bad news was Chris Roth hit a shot between first and second that drove in two runs, followed by a double to left by Kory Mueller that also plated a run, boosting Saxony Lutheran's advantage to 7-3 after four-and-a-half innings.
Brown worked the last four innings on the hill for Thayer, walking four (one intentional) while fanning two and allowing 10 hits.
Despite being in a four-run hole, Thayer managed to keep close to the Crusaders thanks to a pair of three-baggers in the bottom of the fourth.
Gaines (single, triple, RBI) jacked a hard shot that skipped past the right fielder, giving him a triple, for the Cats' second extra-base hit of the game to that point. It didn't take long for Thayer to add another.
Jacob Sims then smoked a standup triple to right that brought Gaines and Eckman home, narrowing the gap to 7-5, Crusaders, after four.
Then came the sixth inning, when things went from close to out of control.
Saxony Lutheran pushed five runs across the plate on five hits in the frame, none bigger than Peter Winningham's.
With the sacks full, Winningham planted a double into center field that cleared the bases for the Crusaders.
Winningham, the starting pitcher for Saxony Lutheran, also took center stage in the bottom of the sixth, although he probably wishes he hadn't.
Martin hit a screaming line drive back to the mound that hit Winningham flush in the shoulder. However, the ball fell harmlessly into Winningham's glove for an out, leaving the Crusaders on top 12-5 after six. Winningham worked six and-a-third innings for Saxony Lutheran, giving up 10 hits while walking five, hitting two and fanning four.
The Crusaders' Kory Mueller hit a two-run homer in the visitor's half of the seventh to tack two more runs onto his squad's margin, before Thayer logged its last run of the year in the bottom of the frame.
Brown, who went four-for-four on the day (three singles, double) drove in Sims with a hit to right that set the final score at Crusaders 14, Bobcats 6.