Jackson needs a win to reach Babe Ruth regional

Jackson baserunner Chris Roth is forced out at home by Charleston catcher Zach Rowland during the first inning of their Senior Babe Ruth state tournament game Saturday at Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

Charleston defeated the host team 12-8 on Saturday in the Senior Babe Ruth state tournament.

The Jackson Senior Babe Ruth baseball team is having a sensational season.

Things would be going even better if it weren't for Charleston.

The Fighting Squirrels again proved to be a thorn in Jackson's side, posting a 12-8 victory in Saturday's winners bracket final of the Senior Babe Ruth state tournament.

Jackson, hosting the six-team, double-elimination event at Legion Field, has a 29-4 record. But Jackson is 0-3 against Charleston.

Jackson pitcher Bryant Steffens throws to first base after knocking down a Charleston line drive during the fifth inning of the Senior Babe Ruth state tournament game Saturday at Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

"They're a very good team," Jackson coach Paul Sander said.

Jackson, suffering its first tournament loss after two wins, will play Boonville in today's 1 p.m. losers bracket final.

The winner advances to the 3:30 p.m. championship round against Charleston and would need to beat the Squirrels twice to nab the title.

Today's opener looms especially large since Charleston is hosting the Senior Babe Ruth Midwest Plains Regional starting Friday.

As regional host, Charleston gains an automatic spot in the field. If the Squirrels win the state title, then the runner-up also advances. So the winner of the losers bracket final will join Charleston in the regional even if it doesn't capture the state championship.

Jackson's Bret Steffens steals home as Charleston pitcher Tyler Whybark looks for the call after a passed ball during the fifth inning in the state Babe Ruth tournament Saturday at Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

"That game is huge," said Sander, who plans to start ace pitcher Chris Roth. Roth was the winner in Jackson's first state tournament contest. "We'd like to win the tournament, but we'll throw everything we've got to win the first game [today]."

Even with a regional berth already secured, Charleston is hungry for another state title. The Squirrels are the two-time defending state champions and last year they also claimed the Midwest Plains Regional crown.

"It would be great," Charleston's Tyler Whybark said of a potential three-peat.

Whybark had one of Saturday's big blows, a three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning that wiped out a 4-3 Jackson lead and put the Squirrels up 6-4.

"I was just hoping to get the tying run in from third with a fly ball," Whybark said. "But it went out."

Charleston's Matt Medlock celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run homer during the sixth inning against Jackson.

Matt Medlock added a two-run homer in the frame to make it 8-4. Four of the inning's five runs were unearned thanks to a pair of errors at the start of the frame.

"You can't give a good team five outs like that," Sander said.

Jackson made it 8-7 in the bottom of the sixth, but a four-run Charleston seventh gave the Squirrels plenty of cushion to nail down the win.

"We're a solid ballclub," said Charleston coach Michael Minner, a Cape Girardeau native who graduated from Central High School. "We don't get down when we're behind."

Charleston had 12 hits, led by Whybark, Medlock and Colin Gilooly. They all went 3-for-4.

Medlock, the No. 9 hitter, added a double to his homer. Gilooly, the No. 7 hitter, also doubled. Whybark, who batted fifth, and Medlock both had four RBIs. Gilooly contributed two RBIs.

"We swing it up and down the lineup," said Minner, whose squad is 26-18 against a tough schedule that included several games against American Legion teams. "We have good players sitting on the bench."

Jackson also had 12 hits, led by a 3-for-4 performance from Alex Beussink. He homered, doubled and delivered two RBIs.

Roth and Garrett Fritsche added two hits each. Bryant Steffens had two RBIs.

Steffens was the losing pitcher, allowing nine hits and eight runs -- only four earned -- in 5 2/3 innings.

Whybark started for Charleston and went 4 2/3 innings. He allowed seven hits and four runs, just one earned.

Connor Scott avoided further damage by retiring the final batter in a three-run fifth inning that put Jackson ahead 4-3. Even though Scott allowed three runs in the sixth, he was the winner.

James Naile, Charleston's winner in its tournament opener, recorded the last two outs in the sixth to preserve the 8-7 lead. He allowed a run in the seventh and earned a save.

Sander thought the key to the game was Jackson's inability to fully cash in on early scoring opportunities.

Jackson loaded the bases with nobody out in the first and second innings, but came away with a total of just one run.

"We had a good chance to step on their neck there," Sander said. "We couldn't do it, but that's to their credit."

While Jackson simply hopes to get into the title round and secure a regional berth, Minner feels good about Charleston's chances of a third consecutive state crown.

"We have a pretty deep pitching staff, so we've still got some good arms ready to go," he said.