HAMPSHIRE – From the second the ball left Nate Haacker's bat, he knew it was bound for beyond the wall at Hampshire's baseball field.
With Sycamore and Burlington Central tied in the bottom of the 10th inning of the Class 3A Hampshire Regional final, Haacker had worked a 3-1 count against Rockets pitcher Brenden Bushy.
Bushy hurled an inside fastball, and Haacker didn't miss, sending the pitch over the left-center field fence to give Sycamore a 6-5 win and its second straight regional crown. Haacker, a Bradley University signee, pumped his fist as he rounded second base and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate after a hard-fought, adversity-filled win.
"We challenged him there late in the game. We wanted to make him beat us," Rockets coach Kyle Nelson said. "We didn't want to give him a free pass. We put too many guys on today, that's how they ended up with their runs anyway. We challenged him, he hit a fastball. Good hitters do that, so hats off to him."
Haacker's bomb foiled what could have been a brilliant comeback win for Central (20-12). The Spartans looked like they would close the game out in the seventh, with starter Cole Nelson taking the mound with a 5-2 lead. But after back-to-back Central hits, the Rockets' No. 2 hitter, Jacob Schutta, parked one over the left-field fence to tie the score. Nelson was removed from the game and Colan Treml was brought in.
Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh argued, and Haacker and Treml insisted the ball was foul after the game, but it was ruled a home run, and the score was tied with nobody out.
"I knew once we were down 5-2, I knew that the game wasn't over," coach Nelson said. "Regardless of what the call was, that's a senior there, Jake Schutta, who comes up with a three-run homer to tie the game. It's almost like these guys kind of feel no pressure."
Unfortunately for the Rockets, after stranding runners on second and third to end the seventh, they got just one baserunner against Treml during the eighth, ninth and 10th innings.