EFFINGHAM — With runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the fourth inning of Thursday’s National Trail Conference tournament between St. Anthony and Stew-Stras, Bulldog freshman Jeff Niebrugge stepped to the plate.
The score was knotted at 0, after St. Anthony had stranded the bases loaded in the first inning and the Comets had been struggling to get their bats on Zach Gardewine’s pitches.
Since runs were at a premium, St. Anthony coach Kenny Miller decided to put on a risky squeeze play.
Niebrugge squared to bunt at the last second and deadened the ball perfectly in front of the plate.
Austin Bushur scored easily, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in a game they would eventually win 2-1.
“He’s done it before,” Miller said of Niebrugge’s clutch bunt. “Anybody that’s watched us play knows we’ll put a squeeze down at any time, under any circumstances. Any one of those kids can put a squeeze down.”
“I was ready for it,” Niebrugge said. “We practiced bunts last night in practice.”
Bushur scored the Bulldogs’ second run in the bottom of the sixth inning, on a sacrifice fly by Alex Hoelscher.
Gardewine took care of the rest, pitching 6 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and striking out 10 batters to earn the victory.
Ben Hecht got the final two outs to pick up a save, leaving three Comet runners stranded when the game ended.
“It was a great feeling that we escaped that,” Gardewine said of the seventh-inning jam. “We just need to get our hitting together.”
“Zach pitched a really good game,” Miller said. “I have no problem with the way Zach pitched and the way we played defense. I just wish we could have adjusted better at the plate.”
Though the Bulldogs escaped with a win, they had some trouble hitting against Stew-Stras pitcher Mark Jones.