Columbia drops sectional final heartbreaker

The Eagles won 28 straight games and claimed their first regional championship since 2007. (John Spytek photo)

The Columbia High School baseball team ended its season with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Triad in the Class 3A Centralia Sectional title game Saturday. 

The defeat snapped a 28-game winning streak for the Eagles, who finished with a record of 30-4.

The Eagles had a leadoff hitter reach base in each of the first five innings, but were only able to score one run.

Columbia took that 1-0 lead into the sixth inning behind strong pitching by Shane Wilhelm. 

The Knights tied it in the sixth on a home run, however, and the game went into extra innings. 

“I thought coming into the game that if we could keep them in the ballpark, it would be in our favor,” Columbia head coach Neal O’Donnell said. “The home run definitely changed the game, but we had plenty of opportunities.”

Triad, who held the Eagles to just four hits on the day, scored on a bases loaded wild pitch in the eighth inning to win it.

Wilhelm, a junior who has already committed to play at Mizzou, allowed just four hits over seven and one-third innings pitched, striking out nine while walking only two.

“I don’t think we could have asked for anything more from him on the mound,” O’Donnell said. “He pitched a great game.  We just couldn’t get enough offense to support his outing.” 

The Eagles coach said the big hit just didn’t come for his team on this day.

“We had chances to score early in the game, and our situational hitting just didn’t get the job done,” O’Donnell said. “We took good at-bats, ran the pitch count up for their starter, but couldn’t get the big hit to break things open. If we could have scored a run or two in the early innings, it may have changed the game, especially with the way Wilhelm was throwing.  

“Triad is a good team.”

The Knights went on to defeat Chatham-Glenwood on Monday at GCS Ballpark in Sauget to advance to the Class 3A state tournament. 

Last Wednesday, Columbia won 8-4 over Mt. Vernon to advance to the sectional final. 

Kyle Steve pitched three and one-third scoreless innings of relief with five strikeouts, and gave the Eagles a 6-4 lead in the third inning with an RBI single. 

Steve, who posted a 3-0 record with a 1.08 ERA this season, came on to pitch in relief of starter Luke Watson.

Dylan Hildebrand hit an RBI double in the first inning and Brennen van Breusegen plated two more with his double in the second. He had three hits on the day to lead Columbia’s 12-hit attack.

Columbia’s 30-win season was just the second in program history. The Eagles were Cahokia Conference champions and won this year’s Monroe County Tournament in addition to the program’s first regional championship since 2007. 

“We knew we had a chance to be a special team.  We ramped up our schedule and wanted to test ourselves as much as possible,” O’Donnell said. “After the 2-3 start, we still knew we could get on a nice run. 

“I don’t think that any of us expected to win 28 in a row. I think that is one of the things our kids are going to remember from this season. It isn’t something we dwelled on. We rarely talked about it. What we did emphasize was getting better each day, taking it one game at a time, and being a good teammate. It is crazy to think that we went two calendar months without losing a game.” 

O’Donnell said he was most proud of the fact that everyone on his team contributed.

“Having not won a regional since our 2007 state championship team, I was very happy for our players when we won the Highland regional. Happy for our 13 seniors,” O’Donnell said. “We came up a little short at the end, but our players are going to look back on this season and be very, very proud to be a part of such a great team.”  

The team was led in hitting by none other than senior three-sport star Jordan Holmes, who hit .459 with a .540 on base percentage to go along with 36 runs and 31 RBIs.

Wilhelm was next with a .436 average and .523 on base percentage to go along with 39 runs and 17 stolen bases. On the mound, he went 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 37.3 innings. 

Other key offensive contributors were van Breusegen (.398  average, .515 on base percentage, 45 runs), Hildebrand (.394 average, 36 RBIs), and Sam Spivey (.356 average, 35 runs, 33 RBIs).

Luke Watson led the pitching staff at 7-1 with a 3.08 ERA.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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