CHARITON — When he last walked off a mound, Christian Bambrook felt like he had let his teammates down.
That same night, the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont baseball team left the diamond in Albia feeling like they might have let an opportunity to win a conference title slip away.
Boy, how things can change in just five short days.
Stepping back onto the mound for the first time since giving up a walk-off single to Drew Schofield, giving Albia the first of their two wins over the Rockets last Thursday, Bambrook was asked along with teammate Levi Johnston to do something no other visiting pitcher had been able to do yet this season. Earn a victory at Millage Field.
Not only did Bambrook himself earn a win in his first start since the disappointing loss at Albia, he closed out the first win for a visiting team at Chariton this year. Staring down the tying run as the closer in game one and baring down with the winning run in scoring position to finish a complete game start in the nightcap, the Rocket senior had no reason to hang his head either time, recording consecutive game-ending strikeouts to give EBF 5-1 and 5-4 wins over the sixth-ranked team in Class 3A.
With the last of his 13 strikeouts, blowing a final fastball past Charger catcher Alex Wright to close out game two with the bases loaded, Bambrook had plenty of reason to hold his head high Tuesday night. With that final pitch, the senior lifted his team back into a share of the South Central Conference championship.
“You’ve got to have a short memory no matter if you’re a pitcher, a second baseman or a left fielder,” Bambrook said. “You’ve got to forget quick and that’s what we did. We lost those two games at Albia and we put them behind us. We had a bad Thursday, we came back and we had a great Tuesday.”
EBF needed every one of Bambrook’s strikeouts to hold off a late Charger rally. Chariton cut its second 5-1 deficit of the day down to 5-4 thanks to a long solo home run to center by Austin Peterson in the sixth inning and a sustained seventh inning rally that put the Chargers within a base hit of what would have been their one and only lead of the entire day.
In a month that will end with teams playing for state championships in Des Moines, there was certainly plenty of postseason-style drama out on the field for the second day of July.
“I was out there shaking it was so intense,” Rocket second baseman Jeren Glosser said after leading EBF with five hits, including a game-two RBI single that capped a three-run first inning. “We decided coming in that we were going to put the ball in play. It works. We were going to be aggressive right from the start and put some runs on the board to win a conference title.”
Once the final out was recorded, the Rockets exploded out of the dugout in celebration of regaining a share of the conference lead. EBF scored its most impressive pair of wins at the right time of the season, responding to one of their more disappointing pair of losses last Thursday in Albia.
“We kind of had a little meeting before this weekend and the Grinnell Tournament and we got some things ironed out,” EBF head coach Rod Ashman said. “The guys knew we had to get two wins here to give ourselves a chance to win the conference title. If we can keep winning, that’s what’s got to happen to earn a championship and the guys were fired right up right from the start.”
On the other side of the diamond, Ashman’s counterpart Jake Schroeder was left dealing with the same frustrations as the EBF skipper was Thursday night in Monroe County. Schroeder, who has guided Chariton to a spectacular season that was rewarded with the top seed Tuesday in the Class 3A, District 7 Tournament, saw plenty of flaws in his Charger exposed by the Rockets.
“We haven’t been put in enough pressure situations this year. We can’t always rely on beating teams with seven or eight runs a game,” Schroeder said. “We’ve got to be able to beat teams 2-1 or 3-2. We just never came through with that big hit when we needed it and we got ourselves beat early, which is just as easy to do as winning one late.”
Chariton let several chances to answer a two-run opening frame in game one by EBF get away against Johnston, who continued to pitch out trouble. The Chargers left a total of 15 runners on base, stranding the bases loaded in each of the final two innings, to allow Johnston to win a very special start.
“I told Levi that he had to realize this was his last conference start in a Rocket uniform,” Ashman said his senior pitcher. “Levi didn’t realize that going in, but he really did a great job holding (Chariton) in check. No matter what situation he was facing, he stuck with the pitches he had to make.”
The Rockets gave Bambrook an early start as the EBF pitcher was able to come home, along with Cory Archer, on catcher Chance Wursta’s two-run double into left field in the opening inning. After striking out Lucas Heverlo as the potential tying run to end game one, Bambrook kept right on firing the ball past Charger batters in game two by striking out at least one batter in each inning except the fourth on the way to collecting 12 in his sixth victory of the season.
“I didn’t even know I had that many strikeouts,” Bambrook said. “You just have to be ready to go. You can’t be ready to just go two or three innings. You have to be ready to go the distance. You have to find whatever you’ve got left and hope it’s better than whatever they’ve got left.”
What EBF and Chariton now have left are two final SCC doubleheaders that will decide the conference title. The Rockets (22-10, 14-4) finished their side of the conference race Wednesday against a Centerville squad that still had a chance to share the conference crown with both teams as the Big Reds (16-13, 10-6) needed to sweep EBF, sweep Clarke Monday, and have No. 6 (3A) Chariton (28-4, 14-4) lose twice at Albia next Tuesday.
“These are the kind of situations we’re going to face a lot of the next couple of weeks, even as we head into the postseason,” Ashman said. “It’s been a heck of conference race. You never know who’s going to get who on any given night.”
Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 5, No. 6 (3A) Chariton 1
EBF 200 002 1 — 5 11 2
Cha. 000 000 1 — 1 9 1
EBF battery — Levi Johnston (W, 3-1) (6 2/3IP, 9H, R, ER, 8K, 5BB) and Christian Bambrook (S, 2) (1/3IP, K, HBP), Chance Wursta catching.
3B — Trevor Swartz.
Hits — Jevin Jensen 3-4, Jeren Glosser 2-3, Bambrook 2-4, Wursta 2-4, Cole Maines 1-3, Swartz 1-4.
RBI — Jensen 2, Bambrook, Maines.
Runs — Bambrook 2, Glosser, Jensen, Swartz.
Chariton battery — Charlie Palmer (L, 6-1) (6 2/3IP, 11H, 5R, 4ER, 6K, BB) and T.J. Hockenson (1/3IP, K), Alex Wright catching.
Hits — Jordan Baughman 2-3, Brett Braida 2-3, Ben Kinser 2-3, Token Hall 1-4, Austin Peterson 1-4, Wright 1-4.
RBI — Kinser.
Runs — Hockenson.
Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont 5, No. 6 (3A) Chariton 4
EBF 300 101 0 — 5 10 2
Cha. 100 001 2 — 4 7 1
EBF battery — Christian Bambrook (W, 6-3) (7IP, 7H, 4R, 3ER, 12K, 3BB, HBP), Chance Wursta catching.
2B — Jevin Jensen, Wursta.
3B — Cole Maines.
Hits — Jeren Glosser 3-3, Maines 2-3, Cory Archer 2-4, Jensen 1-3, Jackson Voyles 1-3, Wursta 1-4.
RBI — Maines 2, Wursta 2, Glosser.
Runs — Tanner Allen, Archer, Bambrook, Glosser, Jensen.
Chariton battery — Brett Braida (L, 4-2) (3IP, 7H, 4R, 2ER, 4K) and Jordan Baughman (4IP, 3H, R, ER, 8K), Alex Wright catching.
2B — Braida 2.
HR — Austin Peterson.
Hits — Braida 3-3, Peterson 2-3, T.J. Hockenson 1-3, Austin Ridenour 1-3.
RBI — Baughman, Ben Kinser, Peterson.
Runs — Braida, Lucas Heaverlo, Peterson, Ridenour.