Forget the false bravado.
Hampshire’s Brandon Bowen had no trouble admitting he was a bit timid about coming on in relief with the game on the line after a few bad outings earlier this season. However, this time the senior delivered by pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh and Hampshire came away on the road Monday with a 5-4 comeback victory over nonconference rival Burlington Central.
“I wasn’t too confident,” Bowen said. “I was shaking in the dugout saying I didn’t want it. I didn’t have confidence.
“I just tried to throw strikes and it came out good.”
Bowen pointed out he balked in the winning run in one loss (to Crystal Lake South) and his wild pitch let Jacobs score a winning run to end a game. So his nerves were understandable when he spelled starter Dillon Kuhn (seven hits, four runs) after the sixth.
Bowen struck out Tanner Smith, but then he hit the most dangerous Central base runner, Reed Hunnicutt. After Hunnicutt stole second and moved up on a wild pitch, Bowen also walked Bryan Cynova and Cody Schuver to load the bases.
“I was like, ‘coach you probably should pull me’ — one out, bases loaded and I couldn’t find it,” Bowen said. “I guess I found it.”
Bowen struck out Dan Gerke on a fastball for one huge out. Then he got Jake Johnson to fly to left to end the game for a save.
“Good for him,” Hampshire coach John Sarna said. “He’s a senior. He’s the right guy in that situation.
“He just makes it interesting.”
The Whip-Purs (7-11) all could say they did that, even on offense.
They fell behind 2-0 on RBI singles by Central’s Cynova and Smith in the second. But in the sixth Hampshire finally got to Central starter Jacob Schutta (2-2) for five runs when seven batters in a row reached successfully. Kuhn put down a perfect squeeze bunt with the bases loaded to make it 2-1. Then Nick Mohlman slammed a two-run double to left. Tyler Schutt then had a pinch-hit RBI single.
“[Mohlman] has been battling through some things,” Sarna said. “He was just trying to put the ball in play and let his athleticism do the work.”
The Whip-Purs then scored the game-winning run when Mohlman slid home on the front of a double-steal play. The last run proved huge when Central managed to close the gap to 5-4 with two in the sixth on RBI groundouts by Schutta and Andrew Lauber.
“They got a couple nice hits there, but defensively we just didn’t tighten up very well,” Central coach Kyle Nelson said, citing the squeeze bunt and double steal. “Some days we play really good defense. Other days we don’t. Today we didn’t and they just really got us today.
“We weren’t able to outhit our defensive mistakes at the end.”
Central (11-5), which had a five-game winning streak end, had two hits from Cynova and Schutta. Hampshire had two from Kuhn and Jayson Fleisner.
The two teams could meet again at Hampshire in the Class 3A regional. Last year Hampshire won the regular-season meeting and then lost in the regional.
“It’s a big rivalry but unfortunately they beat us when it counts,” Sarna said. “We’ve got to figure out how to beat them in the regional.”