CENTERVILLE – Perhaps nobody was happier to see the 10th inning arrive than T.J. Hockenson.
Because that meant Kolton Gonnerman’s night on the mound was officially over.
Having thrown the maximum-allowed nine innings in his Class 3A, District 7 championship start for the Centerville Big Reds, both Gonnerman and head coach Bill Huisman had no choice heading into the bottom of the 10th but to hand the ball over to relief pitcher J.D. McDanel. A one-out walk, two outs and two wild pitches later, Hockenson came to home plate for the fifth time on Monday night.
After going 0-4 with three strikeouts against Gonnerman, Hockenson took full advantage of his first shot against McDanel. The Charger freshman grounded a ball into left field, ironically past Gonnerman who had moved over to shortstop, to bring in Jordan Baughman with the winning run that brought an end to unreal night at Pat Daugherty Field as the seventh-ranked Chargers saved their season and saved their state tournament hopes with a 4-3, 10-inning win over their South Central rivals.
“I struck out three times out of five, but I found a way to get that one hit,” Hockenson said. “Obviously my teammates were the ones that kept me in it. Kolton Gonnerman’s a heck of pitcher, but our coaches keep us in the game the whole time. They keep us in a routine. They keep us prepared for any moment.”
Gonnerman’s desperation not to let his season end on Monday was evident all night as the junior refused to come off the mound despite an extremely high pitch count. The Big Red ace threw 167 pitches in nine innings of work, including 105 strikes, but could do nothing about the state-mandated rules except move over to a new defensive position after being the 15th Centerville base runner stranded in the top of the 10th after singling and stealing second base.
“I kept going out and asking Kolton. He kept saying he was fine and wanted to go back out there,” Centerville head coach Bill Huisman said. “We’re so shallow on pitching anyway coming into this game. I know it hurt him to have to hand the ball over after the ninth.”
There was little Gonnerman could do about the deep grounder hit by Hockenson, but that didn’t stop him from trying as much as possible. In the end, Gonnerman could only throw his glove in desperation as the ball went through to left. With Baughman standing on the third, that was all Chariton needed to complete the three-and-a-half hour triumph.
“There was nothing we could do on a ball hit that hard. Frankly, we had our chances all night long,” Huisman said. “Chariton’s a good team. They may take it all the way to state. If you have a chance to put them away, you’ve got to do it. It’s a heartbreaker. There’s no question about that.”
Hockenson’s hit brought the Chargers out of the dugout for a massive dog pile on top of their freshman teammate, celebrate the end to a long, wild night of baseball in Appanoose County that featured almost anything and everything imaginable in a postseason classic. The walk-off hits came three innings after Chariton came to bat in the bottom of the seventh trailing 3-1 facing the final three outs of a fantastic season that included a South Central Conference championship, a top-10 statewide ranking and a sparkling 33-5 mark entering play on Monday.
Brett Braida got a lead-off single to bring the tying run to home plate immediately, but a Ben Kinser pop out put Centerville within two outs of the upset. Token Hall then drew a walk, putting the tying run on, before Gonnerman struck out Austin Ridenour to put the Chargers down to their final out.
That final out turned into their last strike several times. Lucas Heaverlo, Austin Peterson and Jordan Baughman all stood in against Gonnerman facing a two-strike pitch several times.
“I lost track. It seemed like seven to 10 times we were down to our last strike,” Chariton head coach Jake Schroeder said.
Heaverlo, Peterson and Baughman all fouled off several two-strike pitches to keep Chariton’s season alive, then drew three-straight walks to bring in a pair of runs, Baughman, who took over on the hill for Charger starting pitcher Charlie Palmer in the fifth, drew the final walk on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to tie the game at 3-3.
“I’m just so proud of my guys. They just kept grinding and they kept battling and they kept finding a way to stay alive,” Schroeder said. “It was just amazing. It was a heck of battle by two teams that were great rivals. At that point, you hate to see either team lose.”
After a long, dramatic seventh inning ended with Alex Wright’s fly out to center, this wild night took another surreal turn. With two on and two outs in the top of the eighth, Centerville coaches and umpires suddenly ran out to right field to the amazement of a vocal crowd at Daugherty Field as a light bulb exploded overhead.
So before they could storm out of the dugout to celebrate in the 10th, Chariton players ran out to right to join Centerville players in the 15-minute delay to clean up the glass that was scattered across the field. With an added element of impending bad weather on the horizon, there was enough drama to last the rest of the night and possibly into the early morning.
“We really lucked out there with the weather,” Huisman added. “We were already being delayed because of the light. Had the weather come in, we may have gotten this in until after Midnight.”
“I think my junior high school way back in 1995 or 96 may have had a 15 or 16-inning game that kind of reminded me of this,” Schroeder said. “It was such an amazing ballgame. It had everything. You had that wind shift, then that light bulb blew. I can’t even recall it all right now.”
In the end, the remarkable season for the seventh-ranked team in 3A will continue as the South Central Conference champion Chargers of Chariton will take a 34-5 record to Legion Memorial Field in Ottumwa to battle for a spot in the Class 3A State Baseball Tournament. Chariton faces 18-23 Fort Madison, which stopped Fairfield’s 10-game winning streak in the 3A, District 7 final on Monday, in the Substate 4 title game Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Chariton already owns one win over a Southeast Conference team, having beat Keokuk in just six innings 10-0 on Friday in its postseason opener. Peterson kept a fantastic summer going right in the postseason, going 3-4 at the plate with a pair of RBI while Alex Wright drove in three runs, scored twice and also pitched a five-hit shutout to improve to 6-0.
“We lean on everybody in every game,” Hockenson said. “We were a strike away from going home, but we leaned on each other and we’re still playing.”
The loss ended Centerville’s season at 22-17.
Class 3A, District 7 Final
No. 7 Chariton 4, Centerville (10)
C’ville 000 210 000 0 — 3 6 3
Chariton 001 000 200 1 — 4 6 2
Centerville battery — Kolton Gonnerman (9IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 9K, 5BB, HBP) and J.D. McDanel (L, 1-2) (2/3IP, H, R, ER, BB), Michael Firkins catching.
3B — Levi Sebolt.
Hits — McDanel 2-4, Gonnerman 2-6, Brett Kauzlarich 1-4, Sebolt 1-4.
RBI — Gonnerman 2, McDanel.
Runs — McDanel, Michael Starcevich, Grant Walker.
Chariton battery — Charlie Palmer (4IP, 3H, 3R, 2ER, 4K, 7BB, HBP) and Jordan Baughman (W, 6-1) (6IP, 3H, 5K, 4BB), Alex Wright catching.
2B — Wright.
Hits — Wright 2-5, Token Hall 1-3, Brett Braida 1-4, T.J. Hockenson 1-5, Austin Ridenour 1-5.
RBI — Baughman, Hockenson, Ridenour.
Runs — Hall 2, Baughman, Braida.
Class 3A, District 7 Semifinals
No. 7 Chariton 10, Keokuk 0 (6)
Chariton 200 224 — 10 12 1
Keokuk 000 000 — 0 5 1
Chariton battery — Alex Wright (W, 6-0) (6IP, 5H, 3K, BB), Austin Ridenour catching.
3B — Jordan Baughman, T.J. Hockenson.
Hits — Austin Peterson 3-4, Baughman 2-3, Hockenson 2-4, Ridenour 2-4, Ben Kinser 1-3, Lucas Heaverlo 1-3, Wright 1-4.
RBI — Hockenson 3, Wright 3, Peterson 2, Baughman, Wright.
Runs — Baughman 2, Peterson 2, Ridenour 2, Wright 2, Token Hall, Heaverlo.
Keokuk battery — Dakota Shaw (L) (6IP, 12H, 10R, 9ER, K, 3BB), Drew Lewis catching.
2B — Shaw.
Hits — Shaw 2-3, Brandt Ames 1-3, Lewis 1-3, Nate Lisering 1-3.
Centerville 2, Oskaloosa 1
Centerville 000 002 0 — 2 3 5
Oskaloosa 000 010 0 — 1 1 2
Centerville battery — Levi Sebolt (4 2/3IP, H, 2K, BB) and Kolton Gonnerman (W, 7-3) (2 1/3IP, 7K), Michael Firkins catching.
Hits — Firkins 2-3, J.D. McDanel 1-2.
Runs — Firkins, Michael Starcevich.
Oskaloosa battery — Nick Rutledge (L, 5-6) (7IP, 3H, 2ER, R, K), T.J. Boyle catching.
Hits — Rutledge 1-4.
RBI — Travis Gile.
Runs — Rutledge.