O’FALLON — Ryan Bernskoetter had pitched just 15 innings all year. But in the most important game of the season, the Rock Bridge High School baseball team needed its senior more than ever.
Rock Bridge starter Chandler Wyatt lasted only one inning in the Class 5A state championship game against defending champion Francis Howell, and Bernskoetter had to enter during the second inning to keep the Bruins in the game.
“I was nervous. He’s never come in anywhere nearly that early in the game,” said his father, Rob Bernskoetter, a member of Helias Catholic High School's 1987 state champion baseball team.
Thanks in large part to Ryan Bernskoetter, Rock Bridge (24-12) defeated the Vikings (29-11) 9-6 on Friday afternoon at T.R. Hughes Ballpark, claiming its first state title in baseball. The left-hander pitched five shutout innings before eventually giving up two runs and being removed from the game in the seventh inning.
“I wanted to finish it out myself,” Bernskoetter said. “I was actually a little angry when they came and pulled me out.”
But three outs later, he was running back onto the field to join the celebratory dog pile.
The Bruins, who went just 17-12 during the regular season, managed to rip off seven consecutive postseason wins to etch their name into school history.
On Friday, the bats also helped carry the Bruins. A day after relying on infield hits and suicide squeezes to beat Blue Springs South, Rock Bridge smacked five doubles and went ahead 8-2 in the fourth inning, a score that would hold until the seventh.
Junior Logan Twehous, coming off of a complete game shutout Thursday, hit two doubles for three RBIs in his first two at-bats. In his next at-bat, Francis Howell coach Tony Perkins issued an intentional walk with a wave of his hand. Twehous was hit by a pitch in his fourth at-bat.
"It pissed me off a little bit to be honest," Twehous said of the intentional walk. "I wanted another ball to hit instead of walking and getting hit."
Missouri commit Connor Brumfield, a junior, contributed three more RBIs, including the Bruins' insurance run in the top of the seventh inning, which they almost needed.
After a pinch-hit single and a walk prompted coach Justin Towe to bring in sophomore Avery Jennings, a three-run home run and a trio of singles brought the Vikings within three runs — and brought the tying run to the plate.
"I was a little nervous," Jennings said. "I was thinking, we've come this far and it wasn't going to go down in the last inning."
Wyatt struggled in the first inning, allowing two runs on five hits. Towe had planned to use either Bernskoetter or junior right-hander Adam Lafferty if Wyatt struggled in his first trip through the Francis Howell lineup.
He chose Bernskoetter for his experience, and it proved to be the right choice.
The senior, who was second team all-state as a junior but suffered an elbow injury earlier this season, helped make the Bruins state champs — a realization that might have seemed far-fetched during an up-and-down year that ended with the highest of highs.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.