O'FALLON, MO. — Nothing has come easy for the Marquette High baseball team during this magical campaign.
But Friday, the Mustangs had to work extra hard for a landmark triumph.
Marquette scored three times in the seventh inning — all with two outs — to stun Willard 4-3 in a Class 5 semifinal at CarShield Field.
Marquette (24-8) will face De Smet (13-13-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the state crown.
"This is a great way to go out as a high school player," Marquette senior Jake Hansen said. "This was a huge win and now we will try to make some more history (Saturday)."
The triumph was extra special for manager John Meyer, who has been coaching the Mustangs since 2003.
"We have had to earn things all year and that was definitely the case today," Meyer said. "Handling success is sometimes as hard as handling failure."
The Mustangs' seventh-inning comeback started innocently enough as Willard starter Garrett Rice struck out Matthew Arnold. Matthew Bemus then reached on a throwing error, but Tigers left fielder Jacob Van Doren made a sliding catch of a short fly ball by Blake Jenkins for the second out.
Marquette was one out away from having its dreams of a state title erased before Hansen kept the game going with a single up the middle.
"I didn't try to do too much," Hansen said. "I'm a senior and I definitely wanted to be up in that situation. I felt confident and he got a curve up and I was able to drive it up the middle."
That set up the ultimate drama for junior infielder Hunter Miller, who had two doubles earlier in the game against Rice. Miller drove the first pitch high off the 30-foot wall in right field to score two and tie the game 3-3.
"My approach at the plate is if I see a ball I like, I'm going to swing, no matter the count," Miller said. "I knew I was going to get an off-speed pitch. I sat on it and hit it as hard as I could."
Hansen scored all the way from first base with the tying run. Miller moved to third on a wild pitch and scored what proved to be the winning run when George Williams reached on a throwing error by Grant Harris.
Mustangs southpaw Ian Lohse kept his team in the game by not allowing a run after the first inning. He struck out 11 in 5 2/3 innings.
"It would have been a shame to waste a start like Ian gave us today," Meyer said. "He held down an incredible hitting team."
Reliever Braden Barnard shut the door in the seventh to pick up the save.
"We didn't come out here to play in the third and fourth place game," Miller said. "We will enjoy this win until maybe dinner time. But we will be ready for tomorrow. This is how dreams are made."
Meyer feels his team can keep the roll going on Saturday
"We have been through some crazy stuff just to be here," Meyer said. "This was a huge win and it gives us a chance to play for all the marbles tomorrow."
Willard (29-7) has lost all seven games by a total of 11 runs.