by TY WINCHESTER
and TANNER SMITH
The Austin Eagles baseball team captured their sixth Sectional championship in school history Monday night, May 30, triumphing over Southwestern 11-0 at Switzerland County. Josh Helton and Tanner Craig helped the Eagles finish the job on Monday, earning them both co-MVP for Switzerland County 2A Sectional. Austin handled their business accordingly, outscoring their opponents 26-3 for the three games.
“We hit the ball well, played good defense and pitched really well. I’m just glad it came along at the right time.” Tanner Craig said. “We were ready to win the Sectional, and we are ready to win Regional, that’s for sure. It will be a tough one but we will get through it.”
The Eagles started off the tournament against the host, Switzerland County. Senior Josh Helton took the mound and didn’t look back. Josh pitched a complete-game, with an outstanding thirteen strikeouts. Tanner Craig also helped with a soaring two-run homer to deep left-center and Austin would go on to win 8-2.
Austin would then play a familiar foe, the South Ripley Raiders. The two teams met earlier this season at South Ripley, where the Raiders were victorious by a score of 10-7. Matt Bayes, coach of the Austin Eagles, decided to put Helton back on the bump. Josh got in trouble in the top of the first, after walking the first batter, then later gave up a RBI single to give South Ripley an early lead.
The Eagles would finally get in the hitting column after a base hit by Connor Smith. Going into the game, Smith was hitting a solid .556 in his last 5 games. ” I went through a little slump at the beginning of the season and it carried on through out the middle of the season, I’m just glad that I’m finally out of it,” Smith stated.
After the base hit by Smith, Brady White hit a RBI double allowing Smith to score and tying the game 1-1. Avery Halcomb of South Ripley would get in more trouble in the 4th. After loading the bases, Cameron Spencer hit a RBI single, to give Austin a 2-1 lead. Halcomb’s first pitch to the next batter was low and in the dirt allowing another Austin base runner to score.Austin began to loosen up, leading 3-1 after five innings.
In the 5th, Gavin Napier extended the lead with a solo home run down the left field line. Austin loaded the bases loaded, and Tanner Craig hit a 2-run double to give Austin a 6-1 lead over South Ripley. Two batters later, Gavin Napier hit a sac-fly to center field giving Austin some more breathing room with a score of 7-1. Josh Helton would finish out the game with 5 strikeouts (18 for the tournament) and only gave up one hit against South Ripley.
Austin went on and play Southwestern in the title game with Tanner Craig getting the call to pitch against the Rebels. Craig would start off the game hot, striking out two of the first three batters. Josh Helton hit the first of his two home runs in the game down the left field line to give Austin an early edge.
Things would only get worse for Southwestern. After an error on the left fielder and two more walks, Austin would take a 4-0 lead after just two innings. Tanner Craig wouldn’t slow down, keeping the Rebels off base and striking out five through three. Cameron Spencer hit an RBI double, followed by Alex Miner’s RBI single. Josh Helton would come back up in the bottom of the third and hit a three run homer to essentially seal the deal.
“I was seeing the ball well, but the bottom of our lineup helped me out by coming through for us, and Tanner pitched a great game.” Helton said.
Gavin Napier’s ground rule double and Connor Smith’s RBI single gave Austin a commanding 10-0 lead after the third. Tanner would cruise to the last out and secure himself with a no-hitter. “Coach Bayes kept us fundamentally ready. We stayed focused and just glad we could win,” Napier went on to say.
Austin High School had six players selected to the All-Sectional team: Cameron Spencer, Alex Miner, Gavin Napier, Connor Smith, Tanner Craig and Josh Helton.
Austin has won the Sectional Championship twice in the last three years. Austin will play in the first round of Regional Saturday, June 4, 10:00 am, at Providence. Austin will play Providence, who defeated them earlier this season at Providence, 3-2.