Eli Holton should have had more, but his bases-loaded hit with none out in the bottom of the seventh inning was just enough for Hancock last Thursday.
Holton pulled a pitch from Brett Adams down the thirdbase line for a walkoff single as the top-seeded Wildcats slipped past Tri-Valley League baseball champion Cherry Valley-Springfield, 2-1, in a Section Four Class D quarterfinal.
“Eli roped one down the third-base line,” Hancock coach Brandon Olbrys said of his sophomore catcher, who drove in the Wildcats’ first run with an RBI double from the No. 2 spot in the third inning. “It would have gone for extra bases and a couple of RBIs, but that’s OK.”
The eighth-seeded Patriots (13-5), who were coming off a 12-2 defeat of No. 9 Downsville a day earlier, took a 1-0 lead in the third. Jon French reached on an error, moved to second on a single by Alec Denninger and scored when Andrew Bosc singled to right field.
Hancock tied it in the bottom frame as Tyler Phillips lined a one-out single up the middle and scored on Holton’s double to center field.
CV-S threatened to go ahead in the seventh as Cullen Beauergaurd drew a one-out walk and Scott Stiles reached on a two-base throwing error to give the Patriots runners at second and third.
The miscue chased Hancock starter Ryan Smith, who struck out nine, walked two and allowed one earned run on four hits. Reliever Phillips then struck out Denninger and got Bosc to fly out to left field.
Warren Drake opened Hancock’s last at-bats with a single to center. Cole Dufton followed with a bunt-single to the third-base side, and a passed ball gave Hancock runners at second and third with none out. An infield single by Phillips loaded the bases for Holton, who followed with the winning hit.
“We were mentally prepared for a close game,” said Olbrys, whose team beat CV-S, 3-0, in the 2011 sectional final. “I knew runs would be tough to come by.”
Lefthander Adams had plenty to do with that, striking out eight, walking one and scattering 10 hits in the loss.
Phillips, Dufton and Rocco Christian also went 2-for-3 for Hancock, whose losses this season came against Class C affiliates Unatego (7-6) and Unadilla Valley (9-8 and 5-3) in Midstate Athletic Conference play.
“The biggest thing playing in our league is you really have to scratch and claw to win a lot of games,” said Olbrys, who added that Hancock also had a walkoff victory against MAC rival Bainbridge-Guilford another Class C team this season. “You play a lot of close games, so the kids have been there and done it before. You’re more excited and comfortable in that situation if you’ve already been there.”
Olbrys also said Hancock has flourished this season as the team to beat in Class D. “Our goal this season was to face everybody’s No. 1 (pitcher) so we’re prepared for the postseason,” he said.