Bulldogs win fourth straight regional title

May 25—MAHOMET — Mahomet-Seymour heard its doubters heading into this season. That this would be a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs' baseball team. That not having Blake Wolters, now pitching in Class A for the Columbia Fireflies in the Kansas City Royals organization, would make that much of a difference.

Cue two-plus months of proving those people wrong with Saturday as good an example as any.

A sixth-inning rally against Bloomington — with a solid display of situational baseball — helped Mahomet-Seymour top the Purple Raiders 4-3 and win the program's fourth consecutive Class 3A regional title.

"I think that a lot of people thought we wouldn't come back this year," Mahomet-Seymour junior designated hitter Nolan Johnson said. "That it was a rebuilding year. We took that to heart. We wanted to be better than the team last year. We grinded during practices, and we're showing everybody that we're here to play."

"A lot of doubts coming into this season — especially with Blake Wolters not being with us anymore — but it put a fire under us," Mahomet-Seymour junior first baseman Ray Long added.

Winning regional titles has become the expectation of late for Mahomet-Seymour. The Bulldogs won two regional championships in three years when Nic DiFilippo first took over the program in 2007 and then went nearly a dozen years without. The past four seasons marked a resurgence, with four regional titles to go along with 99 wins and counting.

"We talk about it all the time," DiFilippo said. "This is the expectation. This is what we want to do. This is why we play the game. Everything from seventh grade up with these kids we're building toward. Now, it's getting through the sectional. That's the next goal."

Mahomet-Seymour (25-8) will play Chatham Glenwood (30-5) at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the first of two sectional semifinals that day in Rochester. The Bulldogs lost in the semifinals in 2021 and 2023 and dropped a title game to the Titans in 2022.

"It's confidence, right?" DiFilippo said of breaking through at the sectional level. "The first couple times you're there it's a new environment. This is not new. We've seen Chatham, it seems like, all the time in the postseason. It's us and them in the sectional every year, and sometimes we match up. We've got a little chip on our shoulder. We want to go get them for obviously beating us a couple years ago to go to the super."

Mahomet-Seymour is in position to try and add a sectional championship to its trophy haul because of sound situational baseball late against Bloomington. Long and Johnson delivered in the bottom of the sixth inning to help the Bulldogs regain the lead they would hold in the seventh to beat the Purple Raiders.

Finn Randolph drew a one-out walk and Gavin Bailey was hit by a pitch to start Mahomet-Seymour's sixth-inning rally. Long then lined a 2-1 pitch up the middle to score Randolph. Johnson came through the very next pitch on a squeeze play that scored Bailey.

"We were that close to blowing the game wide open," DiFilippo said. The Bulldogs stranded nine runners on base between scoring two runs in the second inning and their two-run sixth.

"We had plenty of runners on base," DiFilippo continued. "It was a matter of who was going to come through in the clutch. We got it. That's the situation, first and third, we love to bunt on all the time. It paid off. Game winner."

That situation was one Mahomet-Seymour has also run through consistently in practice. That preparation, the Bulldogs said, made a difference when they had to perform against Bloomington with a regional title on the line.

"Situations like that just become second nature," Long said. "Can't thank the coaching staff more for helping us get to this point of the season."

And Long said he "never had more faith" in anyone than he did Johnson to come through with the bunt that drove in the go-ahead run. Johnson was pretty confident, too.

"I knew I was capable and able to put that bunt down," Johnson said. "(DiFilippo) told me first-pitch bunt, and I was ready to go. I think it was flawless. We work on it a lot in practice, and I think it really shows when the big moment comes up."