Some teams are superstitious to touch their trophy. The West Salem baseball team prefers to lick it.
After securing their third sectional title in a row Tuesday, the Panthers passed around their hardware, taking turns to lick it. It's been a tradition for three years now, and symbolizes another triumph for a team that's made a habit of playing on the big stage.
"Feels great, especially with these guys, just like last year," senior Braxton Ghelfi said. "Now to have a chance to bring it home now, especially with the guys I've been playing with since 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under. A really good experience."
For a while, it looked like the Panthers might be heading home early. After taking an early lead against Adams-Friendship in the semifinals, a series of errors allowed the Green Devils to take a 6-3 lead in the sixth inning.
But just as they did in the regional tournament, West Salem rallied late, scoring three times in the frame to tie the game at 6-6.
Then in the seventh, Austin Kennedy produced the game-winning single to left field to cap a dramatic comeback win.
Most of the drama in the sectional championship came in the first inning. Prescott scored two runs off Hunter Wakefield to take a 2-0 lead, but again West Salem answered, scoring four times in the bottom half of the inning. Zach Ihle's 2-run single tied the game before Jake Whitbeck gave the Panthers the lead for good in a 5-2 win.
"They're just a bunch of clutch hitters, clutch performers. All through the tournament, we were just clutch," head coach Chuck Ihle said. "We never gave up. Got down by three runs, never gave up. These guys deserve a lot of credit."
West Salem will face Beloit Turner in the division 2 state semifinals on Wednesday, June 14 at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. The Panthers have lost in the semifinal round each of the last two seasons.