BY AARON PATTERSON
DANVILLE — It is no secret by now that the 2013 version of the Danville Dans have a flair for the dramatic. It is almost expected that whenever the Dans take the field, by the end of the game there will be fireworks and drama.
For the fourth time this week, they gave fans an exciting finish, this time with a 5-4 walk-off win in 15 innings on Saturday over the Terre Haute Rex. The Rex (10-5) entered the game with the Prospect League’s best record. The win extended Danville’s winning streak to a season-high five games.
“I’m honestly getting tired of them,” former Oakwood Comet and future Illini Casey Fletcher said of the walk-off wins. “As long as we get a win, everything is fine. We had a couple calls that didn’t go our way and stuff like that in some key situations.
“Nothing like a good 15-inning win on a Saturday night. If we just pull some hits together in some key situations, we’d probably come out with a win a lot earlier. That’s why we play the game.”
Danville defeated Springfield on Tuesday, and swept Hannibal in a double-header on Thursday with all three wins coming in the Dans’ final at bat. Friday’s victory came a little easier in an 11-2 decision over the Quincy Gems, but the Dans must have missed the excitement of the walk-off and kept fans at Danville Stadium on the edge of their seats for over four hours.
“We play to the last out, and that’s admirable,” said winning pitcher Corbin Olmstead. “None of us want to lose and we always want to put on a good show for the fans. When we get down, we just always have to come back. It’s a great feeling, especially when you have the momentum of the home crowd.”
Much of the faithful crowd stuck around until the final pitch including a herd of kids who rushed the field eager to get autographs.
One signature worth waiting for was that of outfielder Drew Buddle who drove in Fletcher from third on a sacrifice fly to right field for the game-winner. It was the third time this week Buddle was responsible for a walk-off win.
“He’s got two walk-off hits in the last week, so we’re going to keep counting on him to get hits in big situations,” Fletcher said. “He came up clutch hitting tonight.”
Buddle was 0-for-3 with three walks prior to his 15th-inning at bat. Fletcher, who had a team-high four hits, reached base on hits in the 11th and 13th innings, but was unable to score. He led off the 15th with a single to right field, was sacrificed to second by Ben Albano, and advanced to third on a balk by Terre Haute pitcher John Patterson who had just entered the game. With the bases loaded and only one out, Buddle sent the third pitch of his at bat to right field where it was caught just deep enough to plate Fletcher.
“I was going up there and I was so tired I thought, ‘I might as well just swing out of my shoes and try to hit one out of here so we can all go home,’ “ Fletcher said of his final at bat. “He (Rex pitcher Taylor Horn) ended up getting two strikes on me and I knew I had to battle. He threw me a curveball in the dirt and I went down and got it and golfed it out of there.
“It was an overall good team win today. Everyone did what they were asked to do, bunt in key situations and things like that. Then Bud came up with the big sac fly to get us the win.”
The Dans (9-5) used seven pitchers including Olmstead who threw the final four innings. Olmstead gave up only one run, three hits, and walked one in the effort.
“My whole job was to get us back in the dugout as quick as possible and just do my job for my team without giving up any runs,” he said. “Unfortunately, I did give up a run in the second (inning pitched). That was just a great piece of hitting on his part. I tip my cap to that hitter because he went outside and drove it the other way and scored a run. Other than that, my whole mindset was just throw strikes, get the job done, and minimize (their opportunities).”
Danville thought it had won the game in the 12th when, with the bases loaded and one out, Josh Miller hit a ground ball to second base. Terre Haute attempted the double play, but the throw to first was high and wide, and Tyler Selesky crossed the plate.
The Dans dugout immediately emptied onto the field and the celebration began. The umpires, however, called both teams back to their dugouts and ruled that Buddle, who slid into second base on the play, interfered with Terre Haute shortstop Will Colantono’s ability to make the throw to first. Miller also being called out for the inning-ending double play.
Danville manager Jason Watson argued the call and was ultimately ejected from the game.
The Rex scored one run in the 13th inning, but the Dans tied the game at 4-4 when Terre Haute pitcher Bryan Nacke walked Selesky with the bases loaded.
The Dans took their first lead of the game in the fourth when Albano belted a two-run homer over the left-field wall to put Danville up 3-2. Terre Haute immediately tied the game in the fifth.
Danville is scheduled to take on the Rex again today in Terre Haute. The Dans are only a half game out of first place, and another win over the Rex would bump them into the top spot.
Danville has now defeated every team in the West Division and hope to make it three in a row against Terre Haute today, but this time without so much drama.