FRANKLIN — It was now or never for Brentwood Academy’s Ben LePere.
He chose now — striking out St. Benedict’s Blake Myers with two men on in the bottom of the seventh to finish off his complete game 4-1 victory and sending the Eagles into the winner’s bracket of the Division II-AA state baseball tournament.
Brentwood Academy will face St. Benedict Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at MTSU, needing to win just one of two games to be crowned state champion for the second season in a row. St. Benedict stayed alive by defeating Chattanooga McCallie in the losers bracket final.
LePere, who surrendered just four hits but worked his way out of several jams, gave up a one-out, seventh-inning single to Ryan Knott, then walked Paul Frierott with two away to bring up the potential tying run in Myers.
That prompted a visit from BA head coach Buddy Alexander who told the senior that Myers was make or break as far as staying in the ballgame.
“He pretty much told me that that was my last guy. If he gets on, I’m done,” LePere said. “And I wasn’t going to get taken out of the game.”
To that end, LePere floated a curveball over the outside corner for strike three, ending the threat and the game and sending the Eagles into the title game.
Alexander said LePere was almost at 100 pitches (“97 or 98”), approximately 20 pitches above his usual 75 to 80, but he decided to let the senior finish what he started and record the final out.
“It’s a little above his pitch count. I was a little concerned to be honest with you, but he did a pretty good job of throwing it where they were calling it,” Alexander said.
LePere said he especially wanted to finish what he started in his final game.
“It was the last start of my high school and probably my baseball career, so I was all out no matter what,” the left-hander said. “You probably couldn’t have paid me to go out of the game right there.”
LePere and BA were helped by error-free defense, and a two-run homer in the top of the fourth off the bat of third baseman Andy Lennington.
Alexander was especially pleased with the defensive effort.
“In the state tournament, you’ve got to do that,” Alexander said. “Every team can capitalize on a mistake. Both games, we have capitalized on other teams errors. So defense is pretty key.”
After giving up a first-inning run, thanks to a Frierott single, a balk and an eventual sacrifice fly by St. Benedict’s Bradley Noland, Brentwood Academy took advantage of a miscue to score a pair of runs in the top of the second.
Philip Henninger reached on an error to start the inning, and eventually scored on Lennington’s RBI single. Brentwood Academy took the lead when Drew Floyd drew a bases-loaded walk forcing in Cody Nelson from third. Lennington’s homer in the fourth pushed the cushion to three runs, and LePere stranded seven St. Benedict runners in the game to preserve the victory.
“Every time I win, I don’t consider it me, I consider it my defense. I don’t get strikeouts. I get groundouts and flyouts and all of that,” LePere said.
The win puts the Eagles in the opposite situation from last year when they won the state championship coming through the losers bracket. Alexander warns BA not to get too complacent just yet.
“We were the ones coming out of the losers bracket last year, so our guys know it can be done. All that means is we’re in a little bit better shape. It’s not over by any means,” Alexander said.
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