When Hunter Rose avoided getting hit by a high fastball late in Saturday’s game against Liberty, some of Century’s fans along the third-base line groaned.
Rose batted with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, the score tied, and the Knights needing one more run to cap their comeback. Rose being plunked would have meant a Century win, and the spectators joked about footing his medical bills — and ice — should the sophomore suffer any injuries.
Rose wasn’t about to let this Class 2A West Region Section 1 semifinal be decided by anything less than a walk-off hit, which is what he delivered moments later.
Rose’s long single to right gave Century a 9-8 victory, one that saw the home team score four times in its final at-bat and put down the rival Lions for a third time this season.
The Knights (15-4) came back from three separate deficits, the third of which had Liberty ahead 8-5 after a four-run sixth inning. Michael Parris’ two-run double was the big blow, and the Lions (10-10) looked to have the reigning 2A state champions in trouble.
Century gathered outside its dugout before batting in the seventh, and the coaching staff reminded their players of a similar situation that took place three years ago — the Knights needed a late surge to knock out Liberty in the playoffs, and they got it done.
“[We] said, ‘Let’s make our history now,’” said Knights coach Chris Poe, who credited assistant Dan Hackett for the pep talk. “He just got them all fired up.”
Brandon Will’s one-out double to left-center cut Liberty’s lead to 8-6, and Bradley Comer followed with a single to center that brought another run in. The Lions threw toward home instead of looking toward the infield while Comer dashed for second base, and an errant heave back toward second allowed Will to score and tie the game at 8-8.
Rose ended the game three batters later with a one-out fly ball that landed near the fence in right, giving Comer an easy trot to the plate and sending Century into the next round.
“One hit at a time, a batter at a time,” Comer said about the Knights’ approach in the seventh.
Liberty grabbed a 4-3 lead in the fifth, keyed by a two-run home run from Austin Massey, only to have Century go up 5-4 on its half of the frame. The Lions had an answer in the sixth — Parris laced his two-run double to left, Ryan Thompson added an RBI single, and Jack Merchak scored on a wild pitch.
Leads aren’t all that secure at Century’s field, however, and Lions coach Brian Tombs said he side knew that going into the seventh.
“You give [Century] credit,” Tombs said. “I thought our guys competed. I don’t think it was anything we did wrong. A couple fly balls that we just misread a little bit, which helped them. You can’t throw the ball away in the last inning like that, let that tying run score.
“Here’s what I told my kids at the beginning of the day. I said, ‘I just want you to compete.’ I said, ‘Give me everything you’ve got, and at the end of the day you’ll have an opportunity.’ And look where we were.”
Paul Libbee had three hits and two runs for Liberty, while Massey reached base four times and had three RBIs. Peyton Scheufele struck out six batters over 5 2/3 innings as the Lions’ starter
Century’s Jared Lamb fanned seven in five innings, and belted a two-run homer at the plate. Rose, Comer, and Matt Born had two hits apiece for the Knights.
Poe said he’s grateful to be getting a few days’ rest before Century faces either Oakdale or South Carroll in the sectional final May 14. The first-year coach said he arrived at school around midnight Saturday to get as much water off the field as he could, then came back by 5:30 a.m. to get his groundskeeping work in — the game was pushed back from 10 a.m. to noon in hopes of better playing conditions.
The Knights are just glad to still be playing.
“I think we came into this game thinking we were going to win,” Comer said. “That was probably a mistake, and we got a little shock right there. So that’s good, and we pulled it out.”
Liberty 200 024 0 — 8 10 2
Century 002 120 4 — 9 10 1