Pender stuns Wilber to reach semifinals
ALBION — Down by three runs. Down to its last out. But Pender wasn’t out of it.
Certainly not when defending state runner-up Wilber committed its first error of the game to also Pender to score two runs. And definitely not when Will Gatzemeyer — who had helped Pender to a Juniors state runner-up just last week — provided the game-ending heroics.
Gatzemeyer capped a furious four-run, two-out rally when he lined a 2-2 pitch up the middle for a two-run single to give Pender a surprising 7-6 win over Wilber in walk-off fashion. It was the nightcap game of day two at the Class C American Legion Seniors state tournament at Leon Nelson Memorial Field here.
“I was running to first as hard as I could because I honestly thought it was going to be an infield play. I turned around and looked at the guy on second, Layne (Heese), and he’s going so hard to home,” Gatzemeyer said. “I thought, ‘This could be it. This could be the play,’ and then Layne beat out the tag. It was an unbelievable moment.”
Before he saw what happened, a short prayer went through his mind.
“I was thinking, ‘Please, God, don’t let that be caught. Don’t let me be out on that,’ ” he said.
“I’m glad we were able to get something done,” Pender coach Clay Haymart said. “We left 14 runners on base. We had our chances. Give credit to Wilber. They were able to get out of most of their jams.”
Now that Pender knocked off Wilber, up next is defending champion David City in a semifinal Monday at 8 p.m. The winner of that game is guaranteed a berth in the state championship.
“They’re good. It’s going to be a tough task,” Haymart said. “We’re going to have to play our best ball to have a chance to beat them.”
Sunday’s comeback was shocking for several reasons, despite Pender outhitting Wilber 13-3.
Pender trailed 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. It still trailed by that margin when a fielder’s choice resulted in the second out.
Wilber had a golden chance to get out of the inning. But Hunter Ferguson outhustled the throw for an infield single. With a 2-1 count, Wilber brought in reliever Tyler Hooper to try to close out the win. Instead, Hooper finished giving Brady Oliver a walk to load the bases and put the go-ahead run at the plate.
Heese, who was 0 for 4 from the cleanup spot, hit a short hopper between three Wilber infielders. It led to a wild throw to first base, allowing Aaron Ras and Ferguson to score, to set up Gatzemeyer’s winning hit.
“I knew we’d get runners on, and we had to find a way to get a big hit,” Haymart said. “Thankfully, we had a timely error and a big hit by Will.”
Gatzemeyer was one of several Juniors players who came through big for Pender.
Lucas Vogt was 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored. Eric Schopke earned the win in relief, allowing no hits and no runs in the last two innings. Prior to Schopke’s appearance, Devin Hegge finished the fifth inning.
“We wouldn’t be here without our Junior program,” Haymart said. “They really stepped up. Without our Juniors, we don’t have the success that we do.”
Jordan Springer labored through 4!-E innings, throwing 104 pitches — one away from the Legion-allowed maximum. He allowed five runs on one hit, but he walked six. He was also plagued by a Pender defense that committed four errors that contributed directly to half of Wilber’s six runs.
“We only gave up three hits. We were wild and we were inconsistent with our mechanics, but we got the job done,” Haymart said. “Jordan pitched a heck of a game, but he got a little wild in the first couple innings, and it cost him in the pitch count.”
Wilber took advantage, leading 3-1 despite having no hits through three innings. Both teams doubled their scoring in the fifth, and Pender added another in the sixth to set up the final inning.
Wilber 102 030 0 — 6 3 1
Pender 010 011 4 — 7 13 4
WP: Eric Schopke. LP: Tyler Hooper. 2B: (WIL) Tad Moldenhauer; (PEN) Aaron Ras. SB: (WIL) Tanner Sand; (PEN) Lucas Vogt.