No. 11 Benton outlasts No. 18 Harrisburg in 12



By Drake Skleba

BENTON - For the large contingent of Benton Ranger fans gathered at Benton City Park on Monday, things appeared to be quite dismal. No. 11 Benton trailed 5-0 against No. 18 Harrisburg heading into the bottom of the seventh in this big Southern Illinois River-River Conference-Ohio Division showdown.

Benton scored five times before an out was recorded to tie the game  at 5-5 in the seventh. The Rangers eventually scored the game-winner on a Bulldog miscue in the bottom of the 12th inning to come away with an amazing victory.

With the win, Benton (19-3; 8-0) wrapped up its first SIRR-Ohio championship since 2000.

Harrisburg (15-6-1; 4-2) appeared to be in complete control behind a two-hit shutout performance from Bulldog senior Cameron Cummins, as the game entered the home half of the seventh.

Bradley University-bound SS Ty Leffler led off the inning with a solo-shot to bring the Rangers within 5-1. Leffler's bomb was his 14th of 2012 and his 29th of his illustrious career. Both marks are now school records.

“This is just a big win for our program,” said Leffler. “I try to hit the ball hard every time and do what I can to help my team win. I was talking with Ethan (Hughes) about how great it would be if Beau could hit a bomb for us, right before Beau hit his three-run bomb.”

Ranger starting pitcher senior Trey Garrett and fellow senior Mason Childers hit back-to back doubles to bring Benton within 5-2. Benton catcher Ethan Hughes singled with Childers stopping at third set up the play of the game.

Ranger senior DH Beau Gibbs launched a towering drive to left that exited the premises behind the left field fence. Gibbs' fourth bomb of the year sent Benton City Park into hysteria, including this reporter. A remarkable shot heard 'round Benton on Monday.

“I was just trying to get a  base hit and get us closer,” said Gibbs. “It turned out to be a lot bigger for us. It was a great win for us winning the championship and we are looking for better things down the road.”

Harrisburg head coach Jay Thompson replaced Cummins with University of Illinois recruit, junior RHP Ryne Roper, in the ninth. Roper slammed the door on Benton for the next three innings.

Garrett pitched through the 10th in an absolutely gutty performance. Garrett, who is one of the top unsigned seniors in the state, allowed four earned runs in his 10 innings of work, striking out eight Bulldog hitters. He added a three-hit day at the plate.

“I didn't want to come out of the game,” said Garrett. “It was the first time this season that I didn't finish a game I had started. I really battled on the mound today. I struggled early but came on strong at the end. … We don't want this to be our high-point of the season. We want a lot more.”

Benton head coach Brent Blondie went to his freshman RHP Dakota Head (3-1) in the 11th. The PBR Player to Watch in the Class of 2015 had a 1-2-3 inning, including picking up a huge strikeout against Roper on a 3-2 fastball. Head pitched out of a huge mess in the top of the 12th to set up the dramatics in the bottom of the 12th.

“Trey pitched a great game for us and we played well to get this big victory,” said Head. “I trust my defense and I just try to hit my spots, which I was able to do today.”

Ranger sophomore Nate Higgins singled off Roper to lead off the bottom of the 12th. Roper (4-3) made a super-stop on a smash off the bat of Ranger left fielder Cameron Rock, just missing a double-play, as Rock beat the throw by an eyelash at first.

Roper picked up his fifth strikeout for the second out. Ranger senior 3B Jared Johnson dropped a perfect bunt down toward third. The Bulldog third baseman, in his hurry to get the speedy Johnson at first, rifled the ball down the first base line and Rock slid into home plate with the game-winner. Johnson was credited with a bunt single.

Cummins led the Bulldogs with three hits and a pair of RBI. Roper drove home the first Harrisburg run of the ballgame and had two hits. Senior Tyler McGowan doubled home two for the 'Dogs and added a pair of hits.

“It was exciting to beat a quality baseball program like Harrisburg and win the conference championship,” said Blondie. “Beau (Gibbs) has hit some big ones for us, but that was his biggest. He hit a big one last year for us against Harrisburg.

Trey (Garrett) battled for 10 innings without his best stuff. Dakota (Head) is mature beyond his years. He was outstanding for us today.”

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