When Drew Ince, Kevin Prock and the other four Hartville seniors look back on their high school baseball career, they won’t have to think first about the number 34.
Instead, the graduates can try 1 for size: As in the one team standing after the Class 2 state tournament, handing the school its first baseball state championship in school history.
Prock legged out an infield single to drive home Ince for the winning run Thursday, topping West Platte 4-3 at O’Fallon’s T.R. Hughes Ballpark.
It’s the end of a remarkable turnaround for coach Joe Garrison’s program, which went through a 34-game losing streak that started before the seniors entered high school, and did not end until they were sophomores.
“To lose 34 straight and come back and win a state championship, there are no words for it,” Ince said. “I mean it’s … it’s just incredible.”
Garrison said the misfortune of the program during the lean years, which included a winless 2010, made Thursday that much sweeter.
“God’s been good to the boys in blue time after time, and today’s no different,” Garrison said. “It’s just tremendous, tremendous for this school to come up here for the first time in history, and make history. It means a lot to our community.”
Hartville (19-4) took a 2-0 lead early as AJ Buford drove in a run on a fielder’s choice. He then scored on a wild pitch.
West Platte trimmed the gap with a run in the second, but Ince then kept them at bay for a couple of innings.
“I pitched my heart out,” Ince said. “I just knew it was going to come down to how we swung the bats.”
The senior delivered a complete game to earn the victory, striking out six but issuing six walks.
Back-to-back walks to lead off the fifth opened the door for West Platte (22-2), which loaded the bases with nobody out.
However, first baseman Seth Hensley and third baseman Buford made plays to get the next two outs at the plate. Buford’s came after a diving spot.
Then, with two outs, freshman Lucas Horseman delivered a two-out double to put his team up 3-2.
Freshman starter McKaulay Stephenson was strong for the Blue Jays, but after Buford singled to open the seventh, coach Ryan Ramey inserted ace Logan Moose to close the door.
However, Ince doubled to bring the winning run to second with nobody out.
Garrison said the hit gave the Eagles confidence that Moose could be hit. And after falling behind, the coach said his team had a more loose approach.
“It seems like when we get down, it settles us down a lot,” Garrison said. “Maybe it’s because the nerves are gone. We’re afraid something bad is going to happen and it usually does.”
Senior Drew Kelley then drove in the tying run with a groundout, but Moore forced a popup for the second out.
Prock then dug himself into an early hole with an 0-2 count.
His slow roller between the shortstop and third baseman caused the fielders to collide. By the time the throw arrived at first, Prock was safe and the Eagles were champs.
“I’m out of words; it’s just exciting,” Prock said. “At the start of the of the year, coach just asked us where we want to be. We said wanted to be in the final four, and win the state. And we came out and did it.”