PERU — With runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the 11th inning, Alex Rakas laid a bunt down the third base line.
Rakas, who joined the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp just two weeks ago, beat the throw, which got away from Clinton first baseman Jeremy Conforti.
With the ball rolling away, Harry Mauterer raced home with one finger pointing toward the sky in celebration as he crossed home to give the Shrimp an 10-9 walkoff victory Friday at Schweickert Stadium that secured a Prospect League playoff berth with a second-place second half finish in the Wabash River Division.
“I’m so pumped,” said Rakas, who was mobbed by teammates rushing out of the dugout after the final play. “I mean, this is what you lay in bed and dream about right here.
“Harry and I actually had big opportunities in the ninth and we didn’t come through, so in the back of my head I was thinking, ‘My time is coming.’ I got out there and knew I couldn’t let another opportunity get by me.”
The walkoff win was the exclamation point on a dramatic home finale for the Shrimp, who fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning and trailed 5-1 after two innings and 6-1 after the top of the third.
The Shrimp scored one run in the third, two in the fifth and one each in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to force extra innings.
In the 10th, Clinton’s Kyle Lehmann launched a two-run homer to put the LumberKings ahead 9-7, but the Shrimp rallied again when Jared Quandt scored on a passed ball and Tucker Bougie ripped an RBI double to left field.
“It feels awesome,” Mauterer said about clinching a spot in the postseason. “That was a great game to get there on. The team did really well fighting back. We’re a really gritty team and I think we did a great job of just scratching and clawing out way back.”
The Shrimp (37-21), who also qualified for the playoffs in their inaugural season in 2019, will play the Danville Dans (40-16) — who won the Wabash River Division in the first and second halves — at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the divisional championship game.
The Shrimp finish the regular season Saturday at Lafayette.
“It feels great,” Shrimp manager John Jakiemiec said. “We did it in our first year in 2019, but we did it a lot earlier. When it goes down to the wire like that, it’s obviously exciting from a league and fan perspective. The guys really wanted it and that is big. It’s an important tell when guys are talking about where we stand and what we need to do.”
The Shrimp are 2-6 against Danville this season but won the last meeting 4-2 on Thursday.
“They always have good arms,” Mauterer said. “They have guys who throw hard with good offspeed stuff and they fill up the zone. It’ll be a tough game, but I think we’ll get out there and show what team we really are.
“(The key is) swinging the bats. We have a tough time swinging the bats against them, so I think if we get out there and score some runs early, it’ll really ease us in and our pitching staff is great, so I have no worries about them.”
Jakiemiec said Ottawa graduate Jared Herzog will start Sunday.
“I have a group of guys who believe they can do it, but also understand we’re playing a very good team in Danville,” Jakiemiec said. “They’ve had a season for the ages. They’ve played extremely well. But it’s going to come down to who throws more strikes, who puts balls in play a little bit more and who makes plays. I feel really good about our chances.”
On Friday, Ottawa graduate Evan Evola was 3 for 5 with a run and an RBI, Bougie went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and a run and Quandt was 2 for 4 with three runs and an RBI.
Jason Shanner earned the win in relief as he allowed two runs on one hit with three strikeouts and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
After the Shrimp fell behind early, Harrison Bodendorf came on and gave up one run on four hits while striking out nine and walking one in 6 1/3 innings.