A Sayre student dressed up in a 6-foot white bunny costume positioned himself behind the backstop, waved his arms and wiggled his tail in an attempt to distract Henry Clay in the 42nd District baseball finals Wednesday night.
Things got hairy (hare-y?) in the seventh inning, but Henry Clay kept its focus and held on to beat the host Spartans 2-1 to repeat as district champions.
The victory sends the Blue Devils home to host the 11th Region next week. Sayre also qualifies for the region for the first time in 18 years.
"Getting to play the region at our place has been a goal since the season started," Henry Clay Coach Jordan Tarrence said. "In this region, anything can happen. Just give us a chance."
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The Devils won the district for the seventh time in 10 years thanks to stingy pitching and solid defense.
They beat Bryan Station 1-0 in the semifinals, and they passed another tense, low-scoring test in the finals.
Henry Clay scratched out a run in the fourth. Blake Urbanek was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, went to third on Ben Rider's single, and scored on Trevor Hammonds' squeeze bunt.
The Devils added what turned out to be a huge run in the sixth. Urbanek led off with a single, stole second and came home on Casey Womack's single.
"My teammates did a good job moving me over and getting me in," Urbanek said.
Two runs were just enough to back Henry Clay's strong pitching.
Ray Hukill, a sophomore right-hander, started for Henry Clay. He worked five scoreless innings, scattering four singles and striking out five.
"I was a little bit nervous at the beginning, but after throwing a couple strikes, I felt good," he said. "I hit my spots and tried not to worry about what was going on around me. The stands were really loud."
Did he catch a glimpse of the white bunny?
"Luckily, I came out before the rabbit came out," he said with a smile.
After Hukill walked the first two batters in the sixth, Rider took over and retired the next three batters.
Rider got into trouble in the seventh. Mason Jasko drew a one-out walk. After Rider got the next batter to fly out, he hit Michael Flora with a pitch. Sayre's Christian Courtney then singled to center, driving in Jasko to cut Henry Clay's lead to 2-1.
Rider kept his cool, however, and struck out cleanup hitter Mason Stockham to end the game.
"Things got a little iffy there," Urbanek said. "But Ben got the job done."
Sayre Coach Kevin Clary said "the game wasn't lost in the seventh inning. We had multiple chances to score earlier in the game. But we didn't get a bunt down two different times. We just didn't execute, and Henry Clay did."
Flora's pitching kept Sayre close. The junior righty went six innings, gave up seven hits and had eight strikeouts.
"He was outstanding,' Clary said. "He was everything we could've wanted, but we just couldn't get him any runs."
HENRY CLAY 2, SAYRE 1
Sayre 000 000 1—1 5 0
Henry Clay 000 101 x—2 7 1
Michael Flora and John Van Balen. Ray Hukill, Ben Rider (6) and Trevor Hammonds.
Records: Henry Clay 15-20, Sayre 23-13.