WAVERLY — Waverly-Shell Rock’s baseball team has shared an uncommon bond this season.
Wednesday night at Hertel Field, that band of brothers came together and locked up a berth in the Class 3A state tournament with a 6-2 substate victory over West Delaware.
The seventh-ranked Go-Hawks used the pitching of Brady Leonard and the clutch hitting of brother Payton Leonard to punch their ticket to next week’s big dance.
“This is my first year playing varsity ball and it is just unbelievable,” Payton said. “To be on the same team as my brother and then help him in his senior year get to state, it is just unbelievable. I am so happy right now.”
The sophomore right fielder got things going for the Go-Hawks (33-7) in the first inning after his squad fell behind 1-0.
Ryan Willis led off with a single, then Brady Leonard reached via a free pass. Payton Leonard stroked a hard single in the gap to plate both runners for a 2-1 lead.
“They got the early lead and we just had to stay patient and focused and play our game,” said the sophomore. “We knew we needed more.”
The Hawks (26-11-1) tied the game in the third frame on a fielder’s choice, but got no more as Brady Leonard settled in and allowed just one hit and one walk after that.
“Right now I am feeling really good about my pitching,” Brady Leonard said. “I guess dominating would be a good word for it. I had great players behind me and I felt that I was at my best, especially late in the game.”
The Go-Hawks put together a decisive fifth inning as they came up with four huge runs.
Ryan Willis began the frame with a walk and Brady Leonard laid down a single, bringing Payton back to the plate. He delivered another run-scoring single, driving in Willis with what proved to be the game-winner.
“No way was I thinking that was enough,” Payton Leonard said. “I thought we could put together a big inning at some point and it felt good to know we got it started there. I take a little joy from knowing I was part of starting something so big.”
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Luke Willis followed Payton Leonard with an RBI single and Carson Kallenberger registered the last run of the game with a single that scored Willis.
The Willis cousins were hot at the plate with a 3-for-6 night and scored three runs.
“It was so fun for me to stand out there and watch my brother throw those strikeouts to end the game,” said Payton Leonard, who watched Brady close it out with his 10th and 11th punch-outs.
“My first thought was from last year when we lost to Wahlert,” said Brady Leonard. “When I got that last guy it was like, ‘Oh my God.’ What an amazing feeling to play on such a great team.”
For W-SR head coach Casey Klunder, it is a trip that his team deserves.
“Our boys played so hard tonight, like they have played hard all year,” said Klunder. “This group has done it as a team that has played hard each and every day. We don’t have any scholarship guys here, just a bunch of guys who believe in each other.
“Most of these guys are getting to experience Principal Park for the first time as players,” added Klunder. “It was a big win and we get to get to spend one more week together as a team.”
Wav.-S.R. 6, W. Delaware 2
West Delaware 101 000 0 — 2 4 0
Waverly-S.R. 200 040 x — 6 8 1
Nick Casey, Logan Woellert (6) and Colton Reid. Brady Leonard and Carter Langreck. 2B—Hunter Zeiser (WD), Ryan Willis (WSR).