Grit. That’s what Brebeuf manager Jeremy Sassanella calls it. Others call it nerve, tenacity or even clutch. Whatever it is, the Braves have it.
Trailing 5-2, and six outs away from a disappointing end to a splendid season, the Class 3A No. 5 Braves finally found a way to break through against No. 9 Bishop Chatard, as they put together an eight-run sixth inning to take a 10-5 lead and run away with the Sectional 26 championship.
How’d they do it?
Grit, Sassanella says.
“We talk to our kids about grit all of the time,” said Sassanella, whose Braves won their 13th sectional title and first since 2013. “That’s what they showed. … They just kept grinding and kept battling. I had tears in my eyes earlier, I’m just so stinking proud of them.”
Early on for the Braves (25-7), runs were tough to come by. The Braves scored one against Trojans (19-7) pitcher Nick Casey in the first inning, but they didn’t cross the plate against him again until the fifth.
Double plays were Casey’s best friend for those first five innings. He escaped jam after jam by inducing four of them, two of which were the result of some spectacular glovework by Trojans shortstop Quenton Wellington.
But Wellington couldn’t bail his pitcher out of that fateful sixth inning.
For the fourth inning a row, the Braves leadoff man reached base. But this time, they were finally able to capitalize. Justin Hensley led off win a line-shot single to left. He was followed by cleanup hitter Bo Richey, who notched a single of his own. Leo Watson then opened the scoring by crushing a ball off the top off the left field fence for a run-scoring double.
After that, Casey was removed from the game, exiting with a 5-3 lead. But the Trojans’ relief pitchers could not stop the bleeding.
Semifinal hero Jett McGowan followed up with a walk to load the bases. A Trojans error led to a fourth Braves run, before another walk tied the game. Two batters later, Nick Bolander served up a two-RBI single up the middle. And Hensley, the Brave who started the inning, followed suit, cracking another two-RBI single up the middle. It what seemed like no time, the score was 10-5 Braves.
“We talk about it a lot, how our relievers have to stop the bleeding. That’s their job,” Chatard coach Mike Harmon said after the game. “We just couldn’t get it done. … You have to do damage control, and eight runs is way too much. Keeping it 6-5, 7-5, then you have a shot, but that was a big inning to give up.”
In the end, the only aspect of this game that went wrong for the Braves was that Sassanella got thrown out for arguing a call, and he will not be available for Saturday’s Crawfordsville regional semifinal against Northview (19-6).
“That was tough,” said Sassanella, who ran from his third-base box across the diamond to argue a close play at first. “But I’ll tell you what. I will trade getting thrown out of a sectional championship and continuing to play over not getting thrown out and being done. … And I’ll tell you this. I know (the umpire) wasn’t going to reverse the call, but I’ve seen more games where a coach gets rung up and the team comes back. I mean, I didn’t do it intentionally. But I also thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And I was right. This team showed that same grit they have shown all year long.”