STE. GENEVIEVE – The ingredients were falling right into place on Wednesday as the West County baseball team sought another magical finish in the Class 3 state playoffs.
Despite enduring a plethora of physical and mental errors, the Bulldogs mounted another seventh-inning rally to temporarily extend their season.
Saxony Lutheran starter Mason Lewis was forced to vacate the mound while holding a two-run lead due to pitch count restrictions, and saw it evaporate just three batters later.
But Lewis got his chance to carry the Crusaders across the finish line with his bat, and delivered an RBI single on the final swing to punctuate a 7-6 quarterfinal triumph.
Jack Foeste blasted a pivotal three-run homer in the fourth inning, and Hunter Bilek added a solo shot in the sixth off Hayden Roney, who was hampered at times by defense gaffes.
Two teams that played marathon sectional games filled with anxiety just to reach the round of eight battled to another suspenseful finish on the turf at Yanks Field after wet field conditions prevents Saxony from hosting.
The Crusaders (22-3), who celebrated a second consecutive walk-off triumph after edging Malden in 11 innings on Monday, advanced to face Fatima on Memorial Day at CarShield Field.
The Bulldogs (21-7) trailed 6-4 entering the seventh, but threatened when a couple of walks to Luke Gaia and Roney preceded the mandatory pitching change.
Sophomore Will LeDure was pressed into a rare relief appearance, and plunked Dake McRaven before issuing a bases-loaded walk to Peyton Nipper with one out.
West County catcher Cody Ruble, whose crucial double sparked a winning rally on Monday against Valley Park, squared the tally at 6-6 with an RBI single to right.
Kaiden Kaiser-Barton followed by making solid contact against LeDure, but shortstop Tanner King calmly fielded the two-hopper near second base and turned a massive double play.
Roney settled for a no-decision while notching six strikeouts and allowed six hits over six innings. Saxony began its winning push as King greeted Nipper with a leadoff single.
After King moved to second on a wild pitch, Nipper cleanly fielded a sacrifice bunt but skipped a routine throw past first baseman Ty Simily. Lewis then won it by plugging the right-center gap.
Saxony Lutheran played errorless defense, and conversely capitalized when the Bulldogs were unable to secure attainable outs.
West County still found itself leading 4-2 midway through the fourth. Saxony had yet to produce its first hit at that juncture, but collected three straight with two outs.
Isaac Ringwald singled sharply before a blooped double from Bilek found just enough space to land between three pursuing West County players in shallow left field.
With first base open and a 3-2 count, Foeste launched a deep drive that cleared the left-field fence and invigorated the Crusaders while handing them a 5-4 edge.
Kaiser-Barton prevented a run from scoring in the Saxony fifth by throwing out a runner at home from right field, but Bilek went deep after a pop-up fell untouched behind the plate in the sixth.
The result was especially heart-breaking for a strong West County senior class that finished third in the state two years ago and squandered its opportunity for a return final four trip last spring.
McRaven was a perfect 2-for-2 with two doubles, and Ruble singled twice for the Bulldogs. Gaia reached base three times on a single and two walks.
Roney almost dodged the effects of successive four-pitch walks in the opening frame, but both runners scored when a line drive to center field slipped out of Nipper’s glove.
Dakota Dowd ripped a two-RBI single off Lewis with two outs to pull his team even in the second inning, and West County moved in front 3-2 as a McRaven sacrifice fly brought in Gaia.
Tyler Price was 1-for-2 and scampered home of a passed ball in the fourth. Senior Zach Francis, the hero from the wild sectional victory, was picked off after walking later in the inning.
The Bulldogs lost a runner stealing after four previous successful tries, and stranded two men during an empty top of the fifth after McRaven doubled Simily to third with two outs.
West County left eight runners overall, and had its six-game win streak snapped.