Heart River baseball season comes to abrupt end in Region 8 tourney
“For us to come in and lose to the one seed by one run, I am pretty happy with that,” said Dillinger.
HETTINGER, N.D. — Heart River baseball team's long and arduous season came to an end at the hands of the No.1 seeded team at the Region 8 tournament on Tuesday at the Mirror Lake Ballpark in Hettinger.
The close margin game kept hope alive, until a final putout closed the door for the Cougars' season.
Senior Tarence Dillinger's ace performance on the mound was worthy to be named an All-Region player, according to his head coach.
Coming into the tournament as the lowest seeded team, the young Heart River squad outperformed expectations — keeping games close against superior competition. Top seeded and a score happy Hazen lineup would be held six and half innings played with nine hits and a lone run scored. Sadly for the Cougars, one run would be all that was needed as cold bats and a string of line drives would see a 1-0 final result.
“We were kind of expected to be a lower seed because we were so young, but I don't think it really bothered any of the younger kids that stepped up and played,” Dillinger said. “For us to come in and lose to the one seed by one run, I am pretty happy with that.”
The winning run came at the bottom of the fifth after an error at first by the freshman third baseman Mason Kessel would open the door for the runner at third.
The Cougars' few opportunities on three hits, including a triple by junior Austin Buckman, would prove to be not enough for a Cinderella story. Buckman would go 2-for-3 in the game.
"Buckman is essentially our second All-Region player," Silbernagel said. "We only have one pick as the sixth seed, but his average was almost as good as Tarence and he is a huge defensive player for us."
An injury in a player that could had turned in tide, in their cleanup hitter Jordan Koppinger who suffered from a knee injury halfway through the season, left supporters wondering "what if."
“A lot of times if you can stack the top of the line up and they get some hits and you can get a few runs generating, it helps to relax the bottom of the order,” Kurt Silbernagel, Heart River head coach, said. “They don't feel so much pressure and they tend to hit a little better… Once he (Koppinger) left, that kind of took the wind out of our bats.”
Another opportunity that was even more nail-biting came in a bases loaded, two outs situation that unraveled courtesy of a phenomenal play by Hazen’s second baseman.
“99.9% of the time that ball would have gotten through the infield. It was a really good play and you got to give props,” Silbernagel said of the defining moment. “If that one goes through, who knows, we may be playing right now, but that's baseball.”
Dillinger gave Heart River a fighting chance on defense with six strikeout, fielding two groundouts and catching a foul out — hallmarks of a season that witnessed Dillinger claim the sole Heart River All-Region team spot.
“It feels like I earned it in my opinion,” Dillinger said. “I pitched almost every game I could and I think I batted pretty well with the year. It kind of feels nice and I am proud to share that moment with all the other people in our region.”
Silbernagel was awarded with the regional Coach of the Year accolade, highlighting tremendous strides with a young and inexperienced team.
While happy with the honor, Silbernagel says it came as a consolation for a season repleat with bad weather, a lineup affecting injury and a young squad.
Region awards were voted on by the coaches.
“We played solid baseball, but we just couldn't squeeze a run when we needed to,” Silbernagel said. "We got young guys, so maybe there would have been things I would have tried with an older group but they don't have the experience. We really didn't have the practice time outside to really work on those tactics this year, but the younger they get involved, the better.”