TOLONO — Six times this season, Hunter Hart has been at the plate in the seventh inning with a chance to win the game.
Six times, the St. Joseph-Ogden sophomore has come up short. But the seventh time erased all memory of those six previous at-bats.
With the Spartans' regional semifinal against Oakwood tied at 3 in the bottom of the seventh, Hart strode to the plate. The Comets had just intentionally walked senior Blake Hoveln to get to the righty.
Hart made Oakwood pay for underestimating his power, sending Jake England's pitch high and deep down the left-field line, just inside the line for a three-run walkoff home run.
SJ-O won 6-3, and coach Josh Haley praised Hart for learning in his previous at-bats.
"He's behind Blake for a reason. Everything prepared him for this moment, and he was able to calm himself down and hit the ball hard," Haley said.
Calm might be an understatement for Hart's demeanor.
"There was no pressure; I just tried to act like it was another at- bat," he said. "We knew we could pull off this win."
The seventh-inning drama was not the only comeback SJ-O had to complete Thursday.
Ryan Bott hit a ball to left field that Aaron Woller could not handle. The misplayed ball resulted in a double and two runs for the Comets.
"The wind was blowing out to left field quite a bit, and I got the sun in my eyes a couple times," Woller said.
Woller made up for it in the third inning, however, swatting a two-run home run to left field to give SJ-O a 3-2 lead.
The homer was the support pitcher Louis Acklin needed. In the fourth and the sixth, he worked out of situations with men in scoring position and no outs to keep SJ-O in the game.
"Louis really settled in and got his slider working late in the game. He got better and stayed mentally together and attacked with his fastball, too," Haley said.
In the seventh, Acklin left a pitch over the plate and Cameron Lee crushed it to dead center field to tie the game at three, setting the table for Hart's dramatic homer in the bottom of the inning.
SJ-O moves on to the regional championship Saturday at Unity High School against St. Thomas More.
The Spartans beat the Sabers twice last week to clinch a share of the Sangamon Valley Conference title. Woller felt confident SJ-O could produce another quality win in the final.
"We want STM. It's going to be a good game," he said.
First pitch for the championship game is scheduled for 11 a.m.