MATTOON — Brendan Yocius strolled to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning looking to make amends.
In the consolation championship game of Mattoon’s 33rd annual Firecracker Classic, the Rantoul Post 287 second baseman, who also started the game on the mound against Cumberland County, made a pair of costly errors. The two blunders helped lead to five runs and allowed Cumberland to take control of the game with a 6-4 lead late in the contest.
But after Post 287 tied the game in the sixth, Yocius stepped into the batter’s box with no outs and runners on the corners.
After fouling off the first pitch to right field, Yocius struck a fastball up the middle into center field to plate Eli Place for a walk-off 7-6 win. And no one was more relieved than Yocius, who in the words of Harry Dunne from "Dumb and Dumber," totally redeemed himself.
"I almost gave (my teammates) a heart attack a couple times because of the errors," Yocius said with a laugh. "They were simple errors I probably shouldn’t have made, but I went up there with a clear head to just hit the ball. Just put the ball in play and get the runner in.
"I was looking for a fastball, and I was wanting to take it opposite field because the right fielder didn’t have a very good arm, and I wanted the man from third to score. Just put it up the middle or take it opp-o. I didn’t want to pull it."
In the top of the fifth inning, with Post 287 leading 4-1, Yocius dropped a potential double-play ball exchange from shortstop Jake Welbes. The double play would have cleared the bases with two outs, but instead Cumberland County took advantage of the error by plating three runs in the frame to tie the score at 4.
In the sixth inning, with one out in a 4-4 ball game, Yocius made a second error on what would have been an inning-ending double play. The blunder paved the way for Cumberland to push a pair of runs across for a 6-4 advantage.
The errors were a bit out of character for Yocius, who in the third inning snagged a hard-hit line drive and swiftly rocketed the ball to first to double-up a Cumberland runner at first base.
But the second-year Post 287 player got plenty of help from his teammates in order to get a chance at redemption.
Teammate Luke Jones blasted an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth (a ball that just barely fell short of a home run, hitting the bottom of the left-field fence), and Adam Crites drew a bases-loaded walk for a 6-6 game. J.T. Jones then pushed a shallow fly ball to right-center field, and Luke Jones was thrown out at home on a controversial bang-bang double play at the plate.
In the seventh, with two outs and the bases loaded, Welbes made a great over-the-shoulder grab at shortstop to snag a softly hit line drive to end the threat.
All of those plays led to Yocius’ heroics to end the day on a high note.
"I was glad to see him come back and get a base hit to win the game because he dropped a couple double play balls that he normally doesn’t do," Post 287 manager Garry Smith said. "He was trying to turn it before he got the ball. Nobody makes an error on purpose, it just happens. I’m just glad to see him come back and get the winning hit because he felt bad about those errors."
Smith was happy to see his team bounce back on Sunday for the 2-0 finish that saw the club receive a plaque as consolation bracket champions.
"I thought we played very well in this tournament. Saturday against Mattoon, I didn’t think we had any fight in us, but (Sunday) we fought," Smith said. "We had (Teutopolis) down 2-0, but we dropped a fly ball to make it 2-1, and then we missed a ball in center field and dropped a ball at shortstop. We had a lot of guys gone and a lot of guys in different positions. We didn’t make plays we normally would make, but, again, that’s part of baseball."
Throughout the consolation bracket title game, several calls were made by the home plate umpire that drew ire from coaches, players and fans on both sides.
"He was consistent on both sides. I thought he made a couple bad calls. The only negative thing about him is he’s done a lot of college umpiring, so his strike zone was a college strike zone," Smith said. "The strike zone was very small, and I think it took a lot away from the game because the strike zone was so small. It didn’t allow the kids to hit because the strike zone was so small, and the pitchers got frustrated on both sides. But he was consistent on both sides.
"He called them low, and some of the pitches at the belt he called them balls. I thought he got in there, but he called him out. There’s nothing we can do about it. We battled back to win the ball game. We didn’t roll over. I liked the way we played this weekend."
Both in Game 1 and Game 2 on Sunday, Rantoul’s Collin Klein shattered a bat in the wood-bat tournament. On each occasion, the bat broke from the handle, sending nearly the entire bat flying toward the third-base dugout.
In a Game 1 victory over Lincoln, the bat flew into Lincoln’s dugout and nearly hit a player, though everyone ended up being safe during both broken-bat fiascos. Another who was safe on the first broken bat was Klein, who reached first base during the slight chaos.
"What happened was the bat was slammed on the ground, and that put a crack in it," Yocius said of the first bat. "Nobody knew if it was broken or not. He went up, and he got out of his slump from it."
Rantoul 12, Lincoln 4
Rantoul exploded out of the gate early Sunday morning in a 12-4 victory over Lincoln to place itself in the consolation championship game.
Post 287 plated four runs in the first inning and five in the second for a 9-0 lead. After tacking on the three more runs across the third and fourth frames, Rantoul allowed three runs in the fifth before recording the final out of the game to trigger the tournament’s eight-run-rule after five innings.
Crites was the most productive hitter of the game, finishing 3-for-3 with two singles and a double along with three RBI. He also scored twice and walked, reaching base in all four plate appearances.
Ethan Smith and J.T. Jones each went 2-for-4 with two RBI, and Luke Jones added two RBI as well. Smith also scored twice, and Rob Pulliam scored three runs
Chad Vermillion tossed two scoreless frames, allowing three hits with two strikeouts, and Dan Wachtel pitched the final three innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits with four walks.
Rantoul finished 1-2 across the first three games of the tournament, falling 6-2 to Teutopolis and defeating Charleston Post 93, 4-1, on Friday. On Saturday, Post 287 fell to Mattoon Post 88, 5-2, before bouncing back with the two victories Sunday.
Contact Zack Carpenter at email@example.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.