Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
O’FALLON, Mo. — Will Robertson knew not to let his chance slip away.
After being intentionally walked four times in the past two days, the Fatima first baseman saw a hanging slider Tuesday and knew what to do.
“Usually I don’t hit those pitches,” he said, “but I really stayed back, and I was like, ‘Well, this might be my only shot, so just go ahead and hit it.’”
He hit it, all right. Over T.R. Hughes Ballpark’s equivalent of the Green Monster in right field, sending the Comets to a 3-2 win in eight innings against Scott City and their second Class 3 state championship in three years.
“I think that ball’s still going, honestly,” Fatima coach Scott Kilgore said. “I think you could put a stewardess on it. He got it all, and that was the biggest swing of his career.”
Comets starter Logan Vogel held on for three more outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, completing a stretch of six playoff complete-game wins by him and fellow senior Alex Dickneite.
“I wasn’t going to let coach take me out of that game,” Vogel said. “Me and Alex are seniors, so we knew we have to be leaders on the pitching staff, so we needed to finish it out.”
Seniors made up eight of Fatima’s 10 starting positions Tuesday, and the team’s wealth of postseason experience — the Comets won in 2013 and finished third last season — continued to pay dividends.
“It’s great to send them out like this,” Kilgore said. “You get close to these guys when you spend so much time with them. They’re like family, and you always want the best for your family.”
It was a senior who got the Comets’ hitting started in the second after a scoreless first inning from both teams. Third baseman Matt Temmen doubled and moved to third on a passed ball. Junior center fielder Hunter Hennier then drove him home with a single to left.
“Coach always tells us whenever we hit first, it’s ‘Hit first, score first,’” Temmen said. “He just wants to jump on teams, because the losses we’ve had this year, the team just jumped on us and we couldn’t come back.”
Fatima took a 2-0 lead in the third when Vogel reached on an error and moved to second when senior Sam Hager drew a walk. Robertson then took advantage of a rare chance to hit with a single to right that plated Vogel.
Scott City responded in the bottom of the inning, however, with two runs on three hits. With the score tied, a waiting game ensued. Neither team scored in the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh innings.
“Not scoring that many innings, it kind of gets to you,” Temmen said.
Temmen played a big role in diffusing the Rams’ most dangerous scoring opportunity. After Scott City runners reached on consecutive errors to begin the bottom of the fourth inning, Temmen fielded a grounder, tagged the lead runner and fired to second for the double play.
“I had the same situation in the quarterfinal game, and I missed the tag — not a good situation,” Temmen said. “I made sure to use two hands this time and just really stick him and the double play’s a bonus.”
Vogel struck out the next batter looking, and the Comets were out of the inning unscathed.
“That was a huge defensive play by (Temmen), and you can look back now and see exactly how huge that defensive play was,” Kilgore said. “… They were pressuring first and second there, and we made a couple mistakes. Sometimes mistakes tend to snowball, but we try to focus on minimizing those mistakes, and they did a good job with that.”
Another key defensive play ensured Robertson would have a chance to bat in the eighth inning.
The Rams began the bottom of the seventh inning with a single to right-center, and leadoff hitter Braden Cox attempted to bunt the winning run to second base. Fatima catcher Zach Hudpeth had other plans, however. The senior leaped from his squatting position to field the short bunt and fired a bullet to second to retire the lead runner. The next two batters went down quietly, and the Comets still had life.
“That killed their momentum,” Kilgore said. “They were trying to bunt the guy into scoring position, and to bounce like that (from) behind the plate and make that play, that was huge.”
Then came the bomb. With one out, Robertson knocked the first pitch of his at-bat skyward and by the time he was mobbed at home plate, Fatima was three difficult outs from a championship.
“I knew it was over, and I just went crazy,” Temmen said. “The best feeling in the world right there.”
Temmen got the first out in the eighth on a grounder that he misplayed but rescued in time to beat the runner at first. The second was a force out at second of Scott City designated hitter Tyler Rogers, who had singled to right. The relay to first was a moment too slow to get the game-ending double play, however, and Rams right fielder Dylan Keller knocked another single to right to keep Scott City’s season alive. With two on and two out, Temmen fielded the next pitch and stepped on third to ignite a dogpile on the pitcher’s mound in celebration.
The state championship is Fatima’s third as a program. The Comets won their first in 1992. The Comets finished the year with a record of 22-7 and are now 18-1 in the past three postseasons. Kilgore hesitated when asked if the recent run qualifies as a dynasty.
“I don’t know if I want to use the word ‘dynasty,’” he said. “But it’s a nice tradition.”
The Comets will have plenty of holes to fill if they hope to return to O’Fallon next spring.
“We’ve got a big junior class stepping in, and we’ve got a lot of sophomores on the bench,” said Robertson, a junior. “So I think we can be right back here next year, and I think it’s just dedication, hard work and (being) hungry to come back next year.”
But for the moment, the Comets can revel in earning their second state title in three years.
“Gentlemen,” Kilgore told them after the game, “you just made memories that you’ll never forget.”