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CURRENT STORIES


Osbourn pitches Cougars into finals

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Wes Osbourn doesn't know if he touched second base. Frankly, he doesn't seem to care. What he does know is Lincoln is one game away from a state title.

After scoring on a Jason Richardson double in the fifth inning, Osbourn was called out for missing second base on an appeal play -- right in the middle of a rally. But it was already too late for Herbert Hoover to take advantage.

Seth Williams also scored on the play, and pinch-runner Andrew Wentz later came around to give the No. 2 Cougars a two-run lead. Osbourn finished off the No. 3 Huskies (25-10-1) Thursday at Watt Powell Park for a 3-1 victory in the Class AA state semifinal. Lincoln (26-3) plays for a state title at noon today against unranked Magnolia (18-10). The Blue Eagles defeated Independence, 7-3, in the other semifinal.

The Cougars haven't been to the state tournament since 1986 and make their first-ever championship game appearance. But with 10 seniors, there's no lack of leadership.

"The No. 1 thing I say is to have no regrets -- don't regret anything that we've done and never make the same mistake twice," Osbourn said.

It was Osbourn's dominant pitching which allowed Lincoln to advance. Osbourn (12-0) struck out a season-high 14 and ended the game with four in a row. Except for the fifth, when Herbert Hoover scored its lone run, he allowed just four baserunners and two hits.

In that inning, Richard Turley, the Huskies No. 8 hitter, led off with a triple to the left-center gap which rolled to the wall. Two batters later, Nathan Koepsel hit a grounder which bounced off the mound and rolled behind it.

Lincoln shortstop Zak Bart fielded it and threw Koepsel out, but Turley scored to give Herbert Hoover a 1-0 lead. Adam Myers and Matt Asbury followed with singles, but Osbourn got out of the jam.

Myers (8-5) was matching Osbourn for Herbert Hoover in an early pitcher's duel. The Huskies ace tossed a five-hitter and struck out 10, and coach Kevin Buckner thought the lead would hold.

"All year, we've been able to do that, and Adam's the kind of pitcher that could do that," Buckner said. "But statistically, (Lincoln) is a really good hitting team."

The Cougars had baserunners in the first four innings but went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. They were looking for a run -- something they could get anytime they wanted in the regular season. No team has shut them out all year.

"We never felt panicked," Lincoln coach Tommy Hunter said. "We never felt the jitters. You can sense it with these kids -- when they come on and off the field. If we were down to one or two outs in the last inning and if we were behind, I'd still have faith in them."

Eric Hardesty led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, and two batters later, Seth Williams was hit by a pitch. Then Osbourn hit a grounder inches from Huskies second baseman Jason Prowse's glove and into center field to score Hardesty and tie the game. Williams went to third on the play.

Richardson smoked a line drive to right which Daniel Turley misplayed. It went over his head and rolled to the wall. Williams scored easily to give Lincoln a 2-1 lead, and Osbourn apparently scored on the play as well.

But after a Herbert Hoover appeal, Osbourn was called out at second for missing the bag. He waited to make sure Richardson's hit would fall before running. Instead of worrying about missing an opportunity at a patented Lincoln explosion after the appeal, he was glad to have the lead.

"I was trying to determine whether I needed to run back to first base (to tag up) or not," Osbourn said. "They said I missed the bag. Whether I did or not, I don't know. But it didn't matter. It made me a little more relieved about the game that we were up 2-1 to begin with."

Lincoln did get its third run when Levi Maxwell reached on an error to score Wentz. It also got a solid chunk of momentum.

"When you have a two-run lead, it's never enough," Richardson said. "But you're pretty confident when it's Wes Osbourn on the mound. He can take control of a game, and when the momentum's going your way, he's pitching well."

Buckner labeled Osbourn the most dominant pitcher the Huskies faced this season, and they hold victories over two different No. 1 teams.

After getting the lead, Osbourn also got a little extra juice to finish with. He didn't give Herbert Hoover a chance at a comeback by retiring the last seven batters and striking out the side in the seventh.

"I was throwing faster in the last two innings than what I was the whole game," Osbourn said. "I was starting to get a little tired before that. But when you get up like that, the adrenaline gets rushing, and it makes you want to perform a little better."

Maxwell (7-2) will pitch in today's championship game. Magnolia is expected to counter with Drew Cecil (7-2).

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at rpeirce@exponent-telegram.com.