There weren’t any redeeming offensive qualities for Episcopal first baseman Bennett Gibson until the top of the seventh inning of Thursday’s Division III state quarterfinal playoff at The Dunham School.
Gibson had struck out three times and reached on a fielder’s choice when his fifth plate appearance proved fruitful. The senior took an 0-2 curveball down the first-base line for a two-run single that propelled Episcopal to a six-run inning with two outs for a 12-8 victory over Dunham in a three-hour epic between District 8-2A rivals.
“I’m fortunate for Bennett Gibson,” Episcopal coach Travis Bourgeois said. “He had a long day at the plate. He’s one of those seniors that fights, and you keep him in there for that reason and that was a big clutch hit. It got us the lead and we built from there.”
The best-of-three series continues at 6 p.m. Friday at Dunham and a third game, if necessary, is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.
“I told our guys it’s going to be a three-game series,” Dunham coach Wes Theriot said. “We’re prepared for that, and we’re excited to come out and play Friday.”
A four-run fourth inning provided Episcopal (22-7) with a 6-2 lead with ace Luke Hill on the mound. The Arizona State signee, who was 3-of-3 with a homer and two doubles at the plate, had given up two runs on three hits to that point when Dunham (21-15) answered with four runs in the fourth and took a 7-6 lead with two runs in the bottom of the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Jacob Hedges (2-for-2) and a RBI-groundout by Chase Crawford.
Dunham starter Lane Jarreau pitched into the seventh when he walked the first two batters and was replaced after throwing 105 pitches. The Tigers went through five pitchers in the final inning with Colin Foil getting a strikeout and Clay Pecue coaxing a pop up to rightfield for the second out until the Knights took the lead for good on Bennett’s hit.
Stewart Bonnecaze, who led Episcopal with a 3-of-5 effort, singled in a run down the third-base line, Brandon Franks made it 10-7 with a bases-loaded walk and Cole Johnson’s bloop single just inside the right-field line produced two more runs.
Franks (4-2) pitched 2 2/3 innings of relief, allowing a run in the bottom of the seventh and faced the potential tying run at the plate when he fanned Easton Romano with the bases loaded.
“It’s a big win, there’s no doubt it’s great to be up 1-0,” Bourgeois said. “There’s no way in the world we know Dunham’s going to sleep thinking this thing’s over. We’re going to give it our best.”