CHARLESTON — It’s a moment all young baseball players dream about.
Bottom of the last inning. Tie game. Bases loaded. Two outs. A full count at the plate.
That was Mason Ecker’s reality Thursday afternoon when the Paxton-Buckley-Loda graduate was representing Danville Post 210’s Senior Legion squad versus Lyon County (Ky.) Post 68 in a Great Lakes Regional game.
And he wound up taking the most straightforward approach to being a hero.
By letting the ball glance off his leg.
Ecker’s walk-off hit by pitch moved the Speakers past Lyon County 7-6 at Coaches Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, improving Post 210’s regional ledger to 2-0 and keeping the Speakers in the winners’ bracket.
“There was a big celebration,” Post 210 coach Allan Shepherd said, “and then we checked on him.”
Ecker is OK, much like the hopes of a first-ever American Legion World Series berth for Post 210 (33-7-1).
The Speakers just took a tumultuous route to getting one victory closer to that stage.
They booked a 5-1 lead through two innings on the back of porous Aces defense. An Ernest Plummer groundball was misplayed by Lyon County shortstop Gabe Board, leading to a pair of runs. Ecker then scored on a passed ball before Kotah Broeker brought home Plummer with a bunt single.
“They made a couple errors and we capitalized,” Shepherd said. “We got comfortable there (afterward) and we shouldn’t have. I think we probably learned from it.”
The Aces rallied for five of the game’s next six runs off the Post 210 pitching trio of Gage Romack, Dalton Dalbey and Chase Rademacher.
That included a game-tying run in the top of the seventh when a two-out defensive miscue by Speakers catcher Trevor Davis knotted the showdown at 6.
“We just couldn’t find the strike zone,” Shepherd said. “We were getting behind in counts, and they were forcing us to come back over the plate with a fastball. Something we stress is getting ahead in the count, and we weren’t.”
As has happened throughout the postseason, Post 210 mustered a response.
After a Chase Vinson strikeout, Logan Spicer laced a single off Brady Betts to get the Speakers rolling in the bottom of the seventh.
“Going all the way back to our division tournament, if you’ve got a big spot, Logan’s the one you want up,” Shepherd said. “He’s kind of a cool customer.”
Board then relieved Betts and issued consecutive free passes, to Davis and Lucas Hofer. Board recovered by fanning Jake Stipp before sending an ill-fated pitch into Ecker’s lower body.
“We knew Mason had been seeing it well, and we knew the kid had been coming inside and was a little erratic on the mound,” Shepherd said. “We were leaning toward being aggressive with a runner on third and scoring on a wild pitch.”
No matter how it happened, Post 210 earned a 2:30 p.m. game with Beverly/Lowell (Ohio) Post 389/750 on Friday. Win that one and the Speakers are two more triumphs away from the World Series.
Shepherd will lean on Danville graduate Stipp on the mound as he continues to stretch a pitching staff that includes most of the roster.
“The Ohio team’s scrappy,” Shepherd said. “But if Stipp has his best stuff, he’s going to be tough to hit.”
Ecker finished Thursday’s game hitting 1-for-3. He also hit 1-for-3 with an RBI last Wednesday.
There’s no set offensive blueprint for a baseball team trying to recover from an early deficit.
Danville Post 210’s senior Legion club initially looked like it would opt for a typical approach in Wednesday’s Great Lakes Regional opener versus Swoyersville (Pa.) Post 644.
A Chase Vinson single followed by a Logan Spicer double to start the bottom of the second inning trimmed Swoyersville’s lead to 3-1.
Then, the Speakers proceeded to get creative.
“It’s a lost art,” Post 210 coach Allan Shepherd said. “We’re always going to do it as long as I coach.”
That’d be bunting, and the Speakers utilized it to perfection at Eastern Illinois’ Coaches Stadium.
Jake Stipp drove in two runs with a pair of bunts, and Vinson started a rally with his decision to lay one down as Post 210 stayed in the winners’ bracket with a 7-4 victory over Swoyersville.
“We all know how (to bunt). We’re pretty good athletes,” said the Oakwood graduate Vinson, who snared the pitching win as well. “Just anything to ... get some momentum going.”
After Spicer’s second-inning knock, Lucas Hofer sacrificed him to third base with a bunt of his own.
What followed was Stipp getting an opportunity to right some past wrongs.
Twice earlier in the Legion season, the Danville alumnus failed to get down a squeeze bunt.
The third time proved the charm when Stipp bounced one between Swoyersville pitcher Nate Baranski and shortstop Tommy Federici, getting thrown out while bringing home Spicer.
“I was just seeing it better. ... I was watching the ball on the way off the bat,” Stipp said. “It’s just doing whatever we can to get runs across so we can win a game.”
That approach continued in the fourth with Swoyersville (26-5) still ahead 3-2.
Vinson called an audible and bunted for a base hit to lead off the frame, one of his three singles on the day.
After a Hofer triple tied the contest at 3, Stipp executed another runner-on-third bunt and this time reached base safely to boot.
Post 210 (32-7-1) never trailed again.
“We call it team baseball. It’s kind of our motto this year,” Shepherd said. “It may’ve gone unnoticed in the statbook, but it won’t for me. It was huge.”
Another three insurance runs down the road gave Vinson enough cushion with which to work.
He struggled through the first two innings, permitting three tallies as the Speaker defense posted two errors in the field.
But catcher Chase Rademacher started a pair of pickoffs for Post 210, and Vinson wound up stranding six Swoyersville baserunners in six innings of work.
“I didn’t feel like my velocity was there,” Vinson said. “I knew that I was going to have to depend on my command.”
“His offspeed was really good, and he was able to locate his offspeed and bury his changeup when he needed to,” Shepherd added. “But that’s what you get out of a four-year (Legion) senior and a college guy.”
Post 210, which has finished runner-up at the regional stage each of the past two seasons, continued a stretch of overcoming early trouble.
“We’ve been there before,” Stipp said. “Our last three games we’ve been down, and we keep grinding, keep battling.”
Shepherd and Co. no doubt would prefer that trend not continue Thursday, when the Speakers faced Lyon County (Ky.) Post 68 in a 2 p.m. bout.
Even if such a situation plays out once more, though, Shepherd will keep the faith.
“Never got nervous (trailing Wednesday),” he said. “I’ve been saying it since we got in (the) division tournament: They’re battle tested.”
Danville Post 210 Speakers 7, Swoyersville (Pa.) 4
SWOY 210 001 0 — 4 8 2
DAN 020 320 x — 7 10 2
Swoyersville pitching — Nate Baranski, 4.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 K, 0 BB. Tyler O’Kane, 1.1 IP, H, 0 R, K, BB.
Speakers pitching — Chase Vinson, 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 6 K, 3 BB. Gage Romack, IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 K, BB.
Swoyersville hitting — Vought 1-3, R. Ruff 2-4, RBI, R. Pat Adamski 1-3. Tyler O’Kane 1-2, R. Colin Conway 2-3, 3B, R. Danny Gibbons RBI.
Speakers hitting — Ernest Plummer 1-4. Kotah Broeker 1-4, 2B. Chase Rademacher R. Chase Vinson 3-3, 3 R. Logan Spicer 2-3, 2B, 2 RBIs, R. Lucas Hofer 1-3, 3B, RBI, R. Jake Stipp 1-2, 2 RBIs, R. Mason Ecker 1-3, RBI.
Danville Post 210 Speakers 7, Lyon County (Ky.) 6
LC 012 002 1 — 6 7 2
DAN 140 001 1 — 7 9 3
W — Chase Rademacher, IP, H, R, 0 ER, K, BB. L — Board, 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, K, 2 BB.
Lyon — Cooper 2-4, 2 R. Dean 1-3, 2B, 2 RBIs, R. Board 2-3, 2B. Duncan RBI. Thompson 2 R. Brooks 1-4. Head 1-3, RBI.
Speakers — Ernest Plummer 2-4, 2B, 2 RBIs, 2 R. Kotah Broeker 2-4, 2B, 2 RBIs. Chase Rademacher R. Chase Vinson 1-4, 2B, RBI. Logan Spicer 2-4, R. Trevor Davis 1-2. Lucas Hofer R. Jake Stipp R. Mason Ecker 1-3, RBI.