By Shun Graves
PIEDMONT >> William Ashley took the mound in the extra innings Wednesday with a deep breath, knowing that any error could cost the Branson School baseball team its North Coast Section playoff bid.
As it turns out, the team must hold its breath for another day.
No. 9 Branson (12-11) faced eighth-seeded Piedmont (12-10) in a first-round Division IV showdown that, after 11 innings, still held at a 3-3 tie. At nightfall, officials decided to continue the game on Thursday evening.
“I tried to save our team some pitching because we have to turn around and play tomorrow,” Ashley said Wednesday. “We were thinking, if we won this game, we’re gonna turn around and play Saturday.”
Early-inning heroics by Branson’s offense helped the team edge to a 3-2 lead by the fourth inning. Piedmont had dominated the first inning, with two runners scoring on a hit by Dimitri Papahadjopoulos.
Ashley clapped back in the third inning with a hit that accounted for two RBIs and tied the game. The next inning, Tom Lardner hit a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing Luke Shane to dart to home plate.
“He had a really big piece for a sac fly, which was huge at the time,” Shane said. “It carried a lot of the energy through the rest of the game.”
Piedmont’s third run occurred during the fifth inning on an arcane technicality. The ball slipped out of Branson’s hands and rolled off the field into an adjacent ivy bush, awarding Piedmont a run.
“That was a tough one,” Shane said. “Little rules like that are what make baseball, baseball. Which is really fun, but it sucked at that time.”
The game soon turned from slugfest to stalemate. Both sides’ defenses dug in. Mo Jacoby relieved Branson starting pitcher Wilson Wendt, striking out three Piedmont hitters in the sixth inning. Yet sometimes it came down to Branson’s outfielders to keep the scoreboard tied.
Outfielder Noam AuYeung came in clutch to seal the inning four times. In the seventh, Piedmont hit a deep ball to center field where AuYeung made a sterling catch — a feat he repeated to finish the ninth.
By the time Ashley took the mound, little had changed. The defensive showdown continued into an 11th inning, after which the game paused for a day.
“Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out,” Branson coach Steve Reinertsen said. “Really happy for these guys. I think this will be a longtime, if not a lifetime, memory however it shakes out.”