SPRINGFIELD – Trailing the undefeated and defending state champions by five runs in the sixth inning of the Class 2 state championship game, the Houston Tigers’ magical 2007 postseason run produced one more memorable moment.
Looking beaten after five listless innings, the Tigers pushed across seven runs against Blair Oaks ace Travis Henke to take a two-run lead and move just three outs away from the state title. The magic finally ran out as the Falcons answered with five runs in the top of the seventh to win 13-10, but not before everyone at Meador Park had seen what the relentless Tigers were made of.
“That definitely showed our character,” Houston coach Brent Hall said. “I’m glad that other people and the town folk in Houston got to see what kind of character these kids have.”
It was a history-making ride for the Tigers, who after ending a 15-year district title drought won the program’s first sectional, quarterfinal and semifinal games. They left one final mark by taking Blair Oaks (22-0) to the brink of elimination.
After it was over and the team had received the second-place trophy, Hall shared an emotional farewell with seniors Gus Durst, Justin Stringer, Travis Swearengin, Cory Hart and Nathan Trentham.
“I’m proud of what they’ve done for the program,” Hall said. “They’ve sent it to another level.”
Houston (18-7) was cool and calm in its previous playoff games, including a 13-1 thumping of West County in the semifinals the previous morning. But the pressure of the championship game appeared to set in. The Tigers committed six errors and after falling behind 8-3, still trailed by five entering the bottom of the sixth.
The situation looked even worse when Blair Oaks brought in Henke, the nephew of former St. Louis Cardinal Tom Henke who was 13-0 with a 0.70 ERA. But there was no quit in Houston.
Swearengin led off the inning with a single, David Weybright walked and after a strikeout, Trentham was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Stringer hit a grounder to second that was mishandled to bring home Swearengin, and Weybright sprinted home on a passed ball to make it 8-5.
Caleb Smith then walked to load the bases for Durst, who drilled a 1-0 fastball to deep center field. Trentham, Stringer and Smith all scored as the Tigers tied it at 8-all.
“We just didn’t want to quit,” Swearengin said. “We’d been playing for this all year, and we weren’t going to go down like that.”
After Kirk Pierce grounded out, Hart and Swearengin both walked to load the bases. The rally appeared to be over when Weybright hit a soft grounder to second, but it scooted off the glove of Derek Shikles and into shallow left field. Durst easily scored, and Hart motored all the way from second to put Houston in front 10-8.
“That was the only game we came out tight. All the other games we had been loose,” Durst said. “About the third or fourth inning, we just loosened up and started having fun.”
The Tigers were just three outs away from joining the 1938 boys’ basketball team as Houston’s only state champions, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Falcons took advantage of three errors, two hits, two walks and a hit batter to score five times and secure back-to-back state championships.
“I guess you could say we lost it, but I don’t look at it that way,” Hall said. “We put ourselves in position to win the game.”
The game was an offensive showdown that neared several records. The Tigers tied New Bloomfield and Christian Brothers for the fourth-most runs scored in a loss in MSHSAA championship series history. The teams’ 23 combined runs were tied for the sixth most all-time. The teams had 25 combined hits – nine by Houston – to tie for the sixth-most in final four history.
Swearengin, who tripled and scored in the fourth, and Stringer had two hits apiece. Durst knocked in four runs and Swearengin, Stringer and Smith scored twice.
Falcons’ shortstop Andrew Pointer, who tied the MSHSAA record for most hits in the final four with seven, led Blair Oaks with four hits and three RBI. The Falcons set the mark for most hits by a team in a final four with 34.
Durst took the loss in relief Trentham, who gave up eight hits and five earned runs in two innings. Combined with his five-inning semifinal victory against West County, Durst threw 10 innings in two days.
“I had no more gas left,” said Durst, who gave up five of his eight runs allowed in the seventh. “I just went out there and threw the ball, and it didn’t work out.”
Blair Oaks scored twice in the first and added three more in the second for a 5-1 advantage. Houston’s tally came on Durst’s first-inning RBI groundout.
Pierce had a RBI single in the fifth to make it 8-3 and it stayed that way until the Tigers’ sixth-inning rally.
“It’s kind of disappointing to finish second,” Swearengin said. “But at the same time it is pretty gratifying to make it to the state finals.”