The St. Elizabeth Hornets show off their trophy and gold medals after defeating LaPlata 2-1 to win the Class 1 State Championship on Wednesday in O'Fallon.
O'FALLON, Mo. --- Baseball may have more complicated strategies, theories and practices, than any other sport.
But at other times, it can be as simple as 1-2-3 --- and in this case, put a big emphasis on the 1.
As in, No. 1.
As in, nobody does it better.
As in, STATE CHAMPIONS!
Using a high-wire escape act in the seventh inning --- thanks in most part to a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and nobody out --- the St. Elizabeth Hornets held on to defeat the LaPlata Bulldogs 2-1 to win the Class 1 state championship Wednesday at CarShield Field.
Feel the sting.
"I'm so proud of these guys, I couldn't ask for anything better," Hornets head coach Caleb Heckemeyer said. "This just feels great ... really, really satisfying."
The Hornets' Final Four pitching was beyond satisfying, it was sensational --- one earned run in 14 innings.
In Tuesday's 6-1 semifinal win over Cooter, Aaron Blomberg pitched a five-hitter and struck out eight and didn't allow an earned run; Wednesday, Nolan Heckemeyer went six innings to get the win, allowing only one run on two hits.
"Aaron probably pitched one of the top games in his career, and Nolan --- holding them to one run --- he was really locked in today," Caleb Heckemeyer said. "It's probably the best game he's pitched all year, and it couldn't have come at a better time."
Brock Lucas would get the save in relief of NolanHeckemeyer, but this was anything but an easy save. This would be a gasp! save.
The second-ranked Hornets (18-4) struck first against the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (18-2), just as they did Tuesday when they scored four runs in the first inning against Cooter.
In this one, it was two runs --- back-to-back doubles by Heckemeyer and Blomberg to make it 1-0, and Lucas' fly ball to right that was misplayed for an RBI single to make it 2-0.
"When we can get those first-inning runs," the Hornets head coach said, "it settles our nerves, it allows our guys to get focused in --- they know they can compete with (LaPlata) and beat them. It just takes a lot of pressure off them.
"That way, we're not fighting to score runs late in the game, we just rely on our pitching and defense."
It's not like they weren't trying to score more.
"We were still hitting the ball," Heckemeyer said, "but we were hitting it right at them."
The Bulldogs scored a run in the top of the fifth to trim the margin to 2-1, which is where it stood heading to the seventh.
Then Caleb Heckemeyer made the curious decision to remove his third-cousin, Nolan, from the game even though he was only at 84 pitches.
"We've had some of our pitchers run into the wall when they've come back through the lineup for the third time,"Caleb said, "and (LaPlata) had the heart of the lineup coming up. So I decided to come in with a fresh arm and finish it off."
Not just a fresh arm, but a freshman fresh arm, Lucas.
"He's handled some key situations before, he's been one of our top pitchers all year.," Caleb Heckemeyer said.
But after two walks and a bloop single, the Bulldogs had the bases loaded with nobody out.
"I was starting to second-guess myself," Caleb Heckemeyer said, "but then I realized, (Brock's) going to be a big part of our future and I wanted him to get through it and I was going to rely on him to get through it.
"I trusted that he was going to get the job done."
Lucas wasn't feeling quite as confident.
"I thought I was going to puke," he said.
But then on a 1-2 pitch to Justin Wood, Lucas had Wood reaching for an outside breaking ball and he tapped back to the pitcher. From there, it was Lucas to catcher Coltin Green for one out, and Green threw to first to Brady Heckemeyer to complete the double play --- a double play that will forever resound in St. Elizabeth baseball lore.
"As a freshman," Caleb Heckemeyer said of Lucas, "he just did a great job. He manned up when it counted."
Lucas then struck out Riley Case on a 3-2 pitch --- of course, it was a 3-2 pitch --- to end it.
"For Lucas to get out of that inning like he did," Caleb Heckemeyer, "was amazing."
Indeed, as has been the last 12 months for these Hornets and basically, the exact same athletes --- second-place baseball finish last year, a third-place basketball finish in March, and now this.
"They've been our main guys who've helped us through every game, in both sports," Caleb Heckemeyer. "I'm really proud of them.
"After coming up just short last year, and then in basketball season having a tough semifinal game and coming up just short of the championship game, to get back here and finish the deal this year, it's satisfying.
"When we got to the end, they knew they had enough in the tank to get it done."
Caleb Heckemeyer, the 2011 graduate of St. Elizabeth, continued.
"They came in in August and they knew what they could do after last year," he said. "For them to get to experience both Final Fours in the same year ... and boy, did they have a great time doing ... it was just a special year."
It certainly was.
Refuse to lose: Helias
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As easy as 1-2-3: Key double play
helps Hornets claim Class 1 title