CHARLESTON — It’s a moment all young baseball players dream about.
Bottom of the last inning. Tie game. Bases loaded. Two outs. A full count at the plate.
That was Mason Ecker’s reality Thursday afternoon when the Paxton-Buckley-Loda graduate was representing Danville Post 210’s Senior Legion squad versus Lyon County (Ky.) Post 68 in a Great Lakes Regional game.
And he wound up taking the most straightforward approach to being a hero.
By letting the ball glance off his leg.
Ecker’s walk-off hit by pitch moved the Speakers past Lyon County 7-6 at Coaches Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, improving Post 210’s regional ledger to 2-0 and keeping the Speakers in the winners’ bracket.
“There was a big celebration,” Post 210 coach Allan Shepherd said, “and then we checked on him.”
Ecker is OK, much like the hopes of a first-ever American Legion World Series berth for Post 210 (33-7-1).
The Speakers just took a tumultuous route to getting one victory closer to that stage.
They booked a 5-1 lead through two innings on the back of porous Aces defense. An Ernest Plummer groundball was misplayed by Lyon County shortstop Gabe Board, leading to a pair of runs. Ecker then scored on a passed ball before Kotah Broeker brought home Plummer with a bunt single.
“They made a couple errors and we capitalized,” Shepherd said. “We got comfortable there (afterward) and we shouldn’t have. I think we probably learned from it.”
The Aces rallied for five of the game’s next six runs off the Post 210 pitching trio of Gage Romack, Dalton Dalbey and Chase Rademacher.
That included a game-tying run in the top of the seventh when a two-out defensive miscue by Speakers catcher Trevor Davis knotted the showdown at 6.
“We just couldn’t find the strike zone,” Shepherd said. “We were getting behind in counts, and they were forcing us to come back over the plate with a fastball. Something we stress is getting ahead in the count, and we weren’t.”
As has happened throughout the postseason, Post 210 mustered a response.
After a Chase Vinson strikeout, Logan Spicer laced a single off Brady Betts to get the Speakers rolling in the bottom of the seventh.
“Going all the way back to our division tournament, if you’ve got a big spot, Logan’s the one you want up,” Shepherd said. “He’s kind of a cool customer.”
Board then relieved Betts and issued consecutive free passes, to Davis and Lucas Hofer. Board recovered by fanning Jake Stipp before sending an ill-fated pitch into Ecker’s lower body.
“We knew Mason had been seeing it well, and we knew the kid had been coming inside and was a little erratic on the mound,” Shepherd said. “We were leaning toward being aggressive with a runner on third and scoring on a wild pitch.”
No matter how it happened, Post 210 earned a 2:30 p.m. game with Beverly/Lowell (Ohio) Post 389/750 on Friday. Win that one and the Speakers are two more triumphs away from the World Series.
Shepherd will lean on Danville graduate Stipp on the mound as he continues to stretch a pitching staff that includes most of the roster.
“The Ohio team’s scrappy,” Shepherd said. “But if Stipp has his best stuff, he’s going to be tough to hit.”