CANNON FALLS – With one ping of the aluminum bat, the Cannon Falls Bombers were sent packing.
After seven innings, third-seeded Cannon Falls and top-seeded Rochester Lourdes were tied 2-2 and were mixed in a pitcher’s duel between the Bombers’ Taylor Carlson and the Eagles’ Nick Hanson.
When he stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning, all Zach Hillman wanted to do was put the ball in play and swing some momentum back to Lourdes.
“I was looking for the fastball and got one over the middle,” Hillman said. “I just wanted to get on and did a little more than that.”
Hillman belted a walk-off solo home run off the John Burch Park scoreboard, lifting Lourdes into the final four in a 3-2 extra-inning victory.
“I got too anxious against (Carlson) earlier. He was mixing up well and jammed me up on one,” said Hillman, who was 0-for-2 before the game-winning homer. “He finally gave me a good one to hit and was able to do something with it.”
Both teams knew that Monday’s elimination game was going to be a hard-fought victory. Ultimately, it came down to the final big hit that the Eagles ultimately came away with.
“We traded off (the big hits), but we didn’t quite do it in one of those (last) innings,” said Cannon Falls head coach Bucky Lindow. “I’m just proud of these guys because they’re tremendous young men and I wish we could keep playing ball because they deserve to.”
The first big hit of the game came from the Bombers, thanks to cleanup hitter Hunter Blakeslee. Leading off the top of the second inning, Blakeslee hit a solo home run to left-center for the early 1-0 lead. But that edge would not last for long as Lourdes tacked on two runs in the bottom half thanks to an RBI double from Adam Ellingson and a sacrifice bunt from Ben Walston.
In the next inning, Bryce Boyle Hoban led off with a double, then came around on a grounder from Brock Peterson that snuck through the infield.
The fourth inning was shaping up well for the Bombers as they had the bases loaded with two outs. Needing to keep Cannon Falls off the bases, Lourdes went to its bullpen, pulling starter Daniel Burriss in favor of Nick Hanson. Hanson forced Boyle Hoban into a ground out to end the bases-loaded threat.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” Boyle Hoban said of Hanson. “We were trying to put the ball in play and make something happen. But their defense kept making plays. Sometimes in the infield you’ll take some bad hops, but they stuck with all the ground balls, so credit them for playing sharp ‘D.’”
From the moment Hanson entered the game, Cannon Falls’ offense was left helpless as Hanson and the Eagles’ defense recorded 13 straight outs to end the game.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t getting good swing on him, we just weren’t hitting the ball solid,” Lindow said. “He’s a good pitcher and he has thrown three times in three games this weekend, all times in relief. He’s good, but I feel like our guys can hit him. We just didn’t do it with runners on base there.”
With the Bombers’ offense unable to solve Hanson, Lourdes looked ready to pounce in the sixth. Burriss hit a double to left-center, and teammate Henry Wittren went for home. Playing in center field, Boyle Hoban got the cutoff throw to Peterson, who threw out Wittren at home. Two batters later, Cannon Falls got out of the inning unscathed with a pop fly.
“Off the bat, I thought it was going to go towards our left fielder more, but when I hustled over, he was looking at me, so I figured it was my ball,” Boyle Hoban said. “I ran and got it and made sure it hit the cut. (Peterson) kept going and luckily, we got him at home.”
Lindow added, “I thought that was a big hinge moment there that was going to swing us into some momentum.”
Not to be outdone by Hanson, Carlson limited Lourdes to six hits and four walks while striking out five in a complete game. The only mistake from Carlson came from Hillman’s walk-off homer.
“He’s just a battler; he’s a competitor and that’s what makes him special,” Lindow said of Carlson. “He’s had some tremendous games against Lourdes that we’ve come up short in. This one is going to sting. Last year, we lost 4-3 in the sub-section and he pitched a heck of a game against them. There’s a lot of history there, and that hurts, but that’s high-school competition.”
The Eagles will take on Lake City in an elimination game Saturday in Rochester. The Bombers end the 2014 season with a 19-5 record.