All Mason Irby was hoping for was to find a way on base.
The Southeast Lauderdale sophomore did that and so much more. Irby's single with two outs in the seventh inning broke a tie, lifting the Tigers to a 6-3 MHSAA Class 3A state championship win at Smith-Wills Stadium on Wednesday, and handing Southeast (32-7) its first title since 1966.
"I was hoping I could just get on base and give Hunter (Thrower) a chance to score from second," he said. "I didn't have the best game up until that point, and I was just hoping I'd have another chance to redeem myself."
Redeemed may be an understatement.
"He doesn't hit like he's a sophomore," Southeast coach Shay Cooper said. "He plays like he's been doing it for a long time."
With the game tied entering the seventh, Josh Litchfield reached when he was hit by a John Mitchell pitch. After Thrower hit into a fielder's choice, Gage Hagan singled to put two runners on. After Ledarious Clark flew out to left field, Irby came to bat along with his 0-for-3 day at the plate and a first-inning error that gave Kossuth (25-8) the lead.
But on the first pitch Mitchell threw him, the left-handed hitter smacked a ground ball through the left side and Thrower dashed home from second without a throw. Blake McMullen then followed with his second two-run double of the game.
Having regained the lead, though, Southeast still was in for a fight. Following a strikeout to open the inning, Jordan Brawner singled and Mitchell drew a walk. However, Colby Ramey — who won both games in the series for Southeast — got Jacob Wilcher to fly out to center. And after Heath Wood singled to load the bases, Josh Whitaker also flew out to Clark in center, setting off the celebration.
"It's kind of surreal right now," Cooper said. "It means a lot to our community. We've got a very, very supportive group of people out in Vimville and they love baseball. They've followed us the past five months everywhere we've been. It means a lot to them.
"I'm proud for our team and our people, because we've got a great group of kids."
Added Irby: "This is crazy. We've busted our butts since August and to get here and know all that hard work wasn't in vain, it's insane."
Said McMullen: "The hard work paid off. Without a doubt the hard work paid off. We wanted it more than they did. And I feel like we deserve it.
"It's actually as good as I imagined. It's everything I thought it would be."
It was a celebration and a feeling that appeared in trouble most of the game. Southeast, which had gotten off to fast starts in the first two games of the best-of-3 championship series, raced out again Wednesday. Thrower singled and Hagan walked to open the game. However, Clark's bunt attempt was field by Mitchell, who threw Thrower out at third. Irby then flew out to left field before McMullen was able to rope his first two-run double with two outs, a familiar theme for the Tigers, who scored all six runs with two outs.
"The kids are mentally tough and they hung in there," Cooper said. "I think that says a lot about them."
Kossuth, though, answered right back. After Ramey efficiently shut down the Aggies in Thursday's Game 1, they finally broke through against the right-hander early. Mitchell singled and Wilcher walked to open the bottom of the first before Whitaker singled to load the bases with one out. Tyler Nelms followed with an RBI single and after Ramey recorded his second strikeout of the inning, Blake Nethery reached on a two-run error as his soft liner evaded Irby at first base.
In all, Ramey threw 30 pitches in the inning after needing just 65 in Game 1.
However, that was all the Aggies would get. Kossuth recorded eight hits and put runners on in four of the six remaining innings, but couldn't solve Ramey again.
"We just had to remember that we dominated this game and the only runs they scored (in Game 2) were in that one inning," McMullen said. "So outside of those two innings, we dominated the entire series. We just needed to remember that.
"We earned what we got. They, too, earned what they got. But we knew that we were going to come out on top."
Added Irby: "We didn't think they were going to lay down because it's a state championship and nobody's going to lay down for you. But we thought we'd just keep pouring it on and they'd never get a chance to come back. But when they jumped right back on it, we realized it was going to be a dogfight until they end and we just had to regain our focus and composure."
That allowed Southeast to battle back. After being held hitless from the second inning into the fifth, the Tigers finally found their bats with two outs in that frame. Thrower sparked the rally with a double and then scored on Hagan's single to tie it. Clark also singled before Irby struck out looking.
"The only thing that surprised me is when Mason struck out," Cooper said. "Mason has hit all year, that wasn't a surprise. But it was when he froze up there for a second, that was the only surprise.
"But when he came back up there and got a hit, that was really what I expected. Because he's a great hitter and has a good head on his shoulders."
And now a medal around his neck.
Southeast rallies past Kossuth for first state title since 1966
All Mason Irby was hoping for was to find a way on base.
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