CHARLESTON — This game had to be decided by a Chase Vinson moment.
The lone four-year member of Danville Post 210’s Senior Legion baseball team had to be involved in the final play of Sunday’s winner-take-all Great Lakes Regional championship game versus Beverly/Lowell (Ohio) Post 389/750.
And the Oakwood graduate found himself in that position.
But it wasn’t in the batter’s box or on the mound, as he has often paced the Speakers in his tenure.
It was leading off second base and eventually making a mad dash toward third.
“The kid, he made a heck of a play and he popped right up,” Vinson said. “Kind of knew it was going to be a footrace, and I knew he was going to dive for the bag. It was just going to be a matter of inches.”
Vinson came out on the winning end of that battle, and Post 210 is headed to its first-ever American Legion World Series, the result of a 4-3 walk-off victory.
Trevor Davis swatted a hot shot down the third-base line with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was snared by a diving Kurt Taylor, but Vinson outstretched Taylor while Chase Rademacher scored to secure the walk-off success for the Speakers at Eastern Illinois’ Coaches Stadium.
“No one noticed that he stopped the ball because as soon as Trevor hit it everyone was already going crazy,” said Ernest Plummer, who was named tournament MVP for hitting .600 across six games. “Even me, I jumped up. I was like, ‘Oh, let’s go.’ And then once I noticed (Taylor) had it I was like kind of quiet down a little bit.”
The celebration was merely delayed by a few seconds, and Davis soon found himself under a mob of orange- and green-clad athletes in shallow right field.
“I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I knew we had the right guys up and we needed to make it happen,” Post 210 coach Allan Shepherd said. “We did not want to go to the eighth inning.”
The play capped a wild day for the Speakers (35-8-1), who posted a 14-6 triumph over Beverly/Lowell earlier Sunday to earn the right at one final matchup.
Unlike most of Post 210’s regional bouts, the title game centered around stout pitching.
Oakwood senior Elijah Harden received starting duties in the matinee and permitted two runs while stranding 10 baserunners across five innings.
“I was in the bullpen (before the game). I was working and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m good,’” Harden said. “And then right before we went out there I just looked down, and I saw I was shaking like crazy.”
A Logan Spicer solo home run, a Kotah Broeker RBI single and a Rademacher sacrifice fly backed Harden, who left with a 3-2 advantage.
Rademacher shifted from catcher to pitcher over the final two frames, trying to duplicate his state-winning performance the week prior.
The Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin alumnus retired the first five hitters he faced — one on a running, leaping catch by Lucas Hofer near the fence in right field — and later had Beverly/Lowell down to its final strike.
But a Mason Long single was followed by a wild pitch, and Nate Brothers knotted the event at 3 with a single.
“I don’t really think we was worried at any point, even when we lost a game (to Beverly/Lowell on Friday),” Plummer said. “We always know we got a strong team. We can bounce back.”
Plummer led off the bottom of the seventh with a single but was erased on a Broeker double-play ball induced by Brett Gandee, who tossed a complete game for Beverly/Lowell.
Rademacher and Vinson each kept the frame alive with a single, and Spicer drew an intentional pass to set the table for the Danville senior Davis.
“They walked (Spicer) into a D-I player,” said Shepherd, referencing Davis’ commitment to Eastern Illinois, “and we’ll take that all day.”
After consecutive regional runner-up displays in 2017 and 2018, the Speakers finally became the belle of the ball.
Their reward is a spot in the American Legion World Series, which opens Thursday in Shelby, N.C. Post 210 draws Pedal Valves (La.) in the tournament opener, slated for 9 a.m. on ESPN3.
Shepherd is looking forward both to the event and the few days his guys get to recover from their strenuous postseason thus far.
Once the Speakers get to North Carolina, though, the heat is back on. In a way never before felt in this program’s 54 years.
“None of us have ever played any games like this,” Vinson said. “We don’t know what to expect. I can’t imagine too many teams do. I just think (we’re) going out there and playing, just give it our all.”