BY CHAD DARE
DANVILLE — Three weeks ago the Danville Dans brought 27 players together from 21 different colleges.
On Thursday night, the bonds of a team were put to the ultimate test in pair of extra-inning contests against the Hannibal Cavemen in a Prospect League doubleheader at Danville Stadium.
After nearly six hours and 17 innings of baseball, the Dans came away with a sweep, beating the Cavemen 7-6 in nine innings during the first game and then Danville posted a 6-5 win in eight innings for the second game.
“It got late very fast,’’ said Danville reliever Mitch Holtz, who got the win in the second game. “We came into the night expecting to play two seven-inning games.
“When the clock struck midnight, we were still playing baseball.’’
That’s right, Danville centerfielder Jake Thomas delivered the game-winning, walk-off double to right-center at 12:15 a.m.
The first game of the doubleheader started at 6:05 p.m.
“It was a very full night,’’ Holtz said. “We’re just glad we got two wins.’’
But what happened in the 6 hours and 10 minutes between the first pitch and Danville infielder Tyler Selesky streaking across home plate with the winning run was the type of stuff that defines good teams.
“These guys are fighters,’’ Danville Dans coach Jason Watson said. “They will not quit until the last out is recorded.
“That’s good to see from a coaching standpoint.’’
And, it’s something that the hometown fans are growing accustomed to seeing from the Dans (7-5).
Danville has won three straight at home — all three were walk-off, extra-inning victories and including a game from June 4th against Springfield, the team has now won four straight extra-inning games at home.
“It’s always fun to win with a walk-off,’’ said Selesky, whose bunt on June 4th led to a throwing error and the Dans 8-7 win over the Sliders.
But what made this one different was the hit by Thomas, who capped 4-for-9 night at the plate with the gapper.
“That was our first real walk-off,’’ said Selesky, noting that two of them were the resulted of throwing errors, including the first game on Thursday, and the other was a game-winning fielder’s choice ground out. “That was clutch. Jake had been having some bad luck. He’s been hitting the ball hard, but right at guys.
“It was nice that he found a gap in that situation and we won the game.’’
Watson said he doesn’t care how his team is getting the walk-off victories.
“Those are better than walk-off losses,’’ he said. “This team is proving that they are going to battle.
“We ran through some tough stretches in both games, but we found ways to win both games.’’
And the bad stretches for Watson and the Dans cost them a 6-run lead in the opener and a 3-run lead in the second game.
Danville’s bullpen, which entered Thursday with a 17-inning scoreless string, allowed five runs — only two earned — in seven innings of work in the two games.
But on each occasion, the Cavemen (6-9) were only able to tie the game — they never held a lead in either game.
And, it wasn’t a case of just a few players making contributions, the Dans used 23 of their 26 players on their roster during Thursday’s doubleheader.
“These were truly team victories in both games,’’ Watson said. “We had some guys that struggled, but everyone was fighting together and each guy was trying to pick up the next guy.’’
Is that a sign of a team that’s coming together?
“Absolutely,’’ Watson said. “These guys are getting more and more comfortable playing together on the field and they are becoming friends off the field.
“When that happens and you have some success, it helps build team chemistry.’’
Before the second game started, Hannibal manager Jay Hemond protested the contest because of the late start — 9:40 p.m., set by Prospect League umpires Scott Mason and Eric Harmon when the first game ended at 8:49 p.m.
“I guess some information got crossed up between their coaching staff and the umpires,’’ Watson said. “That’s all I know. I don’t know how the protest situation works.’’
If Prospect League officials uphold the Hannibal protest, the game would have to be re-played at a later date.