Eleven innings and 4½ hours later, Herndon wins region baseball title

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As Conor Brennan stepped to the plate for the Herndon baseball team in the 11th inning of the Class 6 Region D final Friday night, he was admittedly tired. But as he swung through a fastball that landed in the outfield to give his Hornets a 6-5 walk-off victory over South Lakes, fatigue became a nonissue.

Brennan was unable to convert a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the ninth, and now he redeemed himself, securing Herndon’s first region championship since 1996. It took running a marathon to get the win, but for the Hornets the win was well worth the extra baseball.

“We just made history; this means a lot to us,” Brennan said. “We’ll definitely cherish this moment and it’ll live forever.”

Before the first pitch, both teams had already secured spots in the state quarterfinals. However, being rivals and having the opportunity to hoist a trophy kept both teams heavily invested.

“You’re in the regional final; you play it to win it.” South Lakes Coach Morgan Spencer said. “If we’re thinking about the state tournament then we’re not going to win the regional tournament.”

Herndon (18-7) struck first on his own turf with home runs from Liam Willson and Brennan in the first and second innings, respectively. South Lakes (19-5) responded with a three-run third inning before Willson drove in another run in the bottom of the frame.

The teams remained deadlocked for the next four innings. Neither budged as Herndon burned through its bullpen. South Lakes managed to use just three pitchers through the 4-hour, 15-minute game, relying on Ryan Ertlschweiger and Colin Casey for the first 10 innings.

The Hornets were fresh off a nine-inning win over McLean on Tuesday, where they used seven pitchers. But when it came down to winning Friday, Herndon coach Steve Frank didn’t hesitate to use five pitchers.

“As it got tight … we said at this point we’re going to go all in and try and get this regional championship,” Frank said.

One of those pitchers, Jackson Coen, missed most of the year after suffering a broken wrist in the preseason. Having Coen back in the rotation has helped Frank develop a staff he is confident in at the most important part of the season.

Frank his team will probably use multiple players Tuesday against West Springfield. After playing 20 innings across a pair of games in four days, the Hornets feel prepared for what they anticipate will be another back-and-forth game against the Region C runner-up.

“We’re going in high,” Brennan said. “We’ll be ready for that game, but it’s still crazy that we just won this.”

South Lakes will travel to Region C champion Lake Braddock for a spot in the state semifinals. The Seahawks were a strike away from winning in the eighth inning before Herndon’s Jack Morgan brought the score back to level with a hit that dropped in shallow right field.

“They’ll respond,” Spencer said of his team’s loss.

Both teams are searching for their first state championship, but for one night, region supremacy was all that mattered.

“This was important to us,” Frank said. “We want to continue and win three more games, but we were willing to make this a little more valuable.”

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