By Corey B. Elliot
DANVILLE — The Danville Warriors baseball team outlasted the Indian Creek Braves 1-0 in extra innings during Wednesday night’s sectional opener.
Danville senior DJ Eckert and Indian Creek junior Brendan Smith were on the mound for all eight innings in what was a fantastic pitching duel. Both pitchers got their respective teams out of jams on multiple occasions, but in the end it was Eckert who delivered for the Warriors with 10 strikeouts, including the game’s final out en route to a shutout win.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Winning six games this season nobody really gave us a chance,” Eckert said. “I’m just so proud of our team the way we fought for eight strong innings. They kept putting up zeroes and we kept putting up zeroes.
“I knew it was just a matter of time until our offense was going to come through and I wasn’t going to let us lose. It’s my senior year and I couldn’t let that happen.”
The game went back and forth from the start.
The Braves and the Warriors each stranded runners in scoring position multiple times, leaving the game scoreless all the way through seven innings.
In the top of the seventh, Danville tried stretching its runners to third two times in a row but was thrown out in attempts that would have put runners in scoring position.
In the eighth inning, junior Zach Blankenship was walked with freshmen Seth Tollison on deck. Tollison sent one off the center field fence, driving in what would be the winning run.
“My first few at bats didn’t go the way I’d liked but coach (Brady) Armstrong told me to see the ball, slow it down and see the ball,” Tollison said. “As soon as I saw that straight fast ball all I had to do was let it rip. I always have confidence going into the batter’s box. I don’t dwell on failure, I just move on. So, failing the first few times at bat just made me hungrier to get that hit late in the game.”
For the Warriors, it was a vindicating victory that tested the true grit of what the team was made of.
With major contributions from a senior and a freshman, Danville saw a season of ups and downs come together for the better.
Often times a young team doesn’t know how to lose close games while on the contrary, an experienced team knows how to win in close games. On Wednesday night Coach Brady Armstrong got the best of both.
“I think that was the greatest competition that I’ve ever seen,” Armstrong said. “Two teams that wouldn’t give in made unbelievable plays in the field with two pitchers that kept growling, gritting and finding ways to get people out but we just happened to have a huge hit and a captain on the mound to close them out.”
Armstrong had strong words for Eckert after the win.
“When I’ve got a captain on the mound I trust him. I trust he’s going to make pitches,” Armstrong said. “There’s a reason there’s a ‘C ‘on his jersey. I don’t know if we’ll ever give a ‘C’ again.”