MACON -- Three-sport all-conference Fulton Hornet Walker Gohring tossed a complete-game shutout victory, and freshman pinch-hitter Ben Leslie provided sixth-inning heroics for the second time in as many games.
Taking on the District 8 champion, Class 4 receiving votes Macon Tigers -- who the Hornets already beat this season -- District 7 champion Fulton prevailed 2-0 in the Class 4 Sectional 4 matchup Tuesday at Larry Bagby Field.
In the Hornets' last meeting at Macon before Tuesday, Gohring earned the win in a three-inning relief appearance on May 10. One-upping himself Tuesday, Gohring went the distance, allowing no runs on two hits and a walk while striking out six in seven innings.
"We put in a lot of hard work this week, practice yesterday," Gohring said. "All my teammates said they wanted me on the mound, and I got behind them. Every time we went on the field, the Lord was with me, I prayed, and he gave me the strength to pitch good. My teammates were behind me today. Gave me two big runs in the sixth inning, and I wasn't gonna let them down. So I came up big and did what I had to do."
For most of the contest, it was a pitcher's dual between Fulton's Gohring and Macon's Hayden Burns, and early on, both starters were at their best.
Tigers starter Burns allowed no hits through 4⅔ innings, while Gohring gave up no walks and got into a three-ball count once before the fourth inning.
Before the fourth inning, Macon reached base once on Gage Lewis's one-out stand-up double to deep right-center in the bottom of the first. Meanwhile, Fulton had three runners get on before the fourth, with all three on walks, including two in the third.
In the third, the Hornets had runners on first and third with two outs -- the first instance, they had a runner in scoring position. With No. 3 hitter, all-district talent Ethan Milius at the plate, it was a golden opportunity for Fulton to score, but he grounded out to third; Macon third baseman Lewis made a great diving stop before making an excellent throw to first for the final out.
Macon may have stopped Fulton from scoring then, but it couldn't contain the Hornets' sixth-inning magic.
Starting the sixth, Fulton's Wyatt Wilfley and Ethan Burt -- who made all-district -- registered back-to-back singles. Burt's base hit ended Burns's outing for the Tigers; Logan Petre replaced Burns.
Petre forced an out to the first batter he faced -- a groundout to him -- but Fulton's runners moved to second and third on the play.
Next up to bat came the now-known Hornets hero Leslie, who was pinch-hitting for Tyler Arthur in the top of the sixth as he did in the district championship.
It wasn't easy for Fulton's Leslie to drive in the run since there was confusion on a drop third strike on a strike eventually ruled to be a ball. If the play weren't called back, a run would've scored while Leslie advanced to first safely.
That didn't happen, and the Hornets' Leslie stayed focused on putting his team in front. He did that, sending Wilfley home when he reached first safely on an error by Macon's first baseman. After he mishandled the ball, the Tigers first baseman picked it up and made an underhand throw to his pitcher at first, but Leslie beat it.
"It's just steel, I guess, nerves of steel," Fulton coach Jacob Lorentzen said. "He gets up there, wasn't even down in the count. A kid that just trusts his skills, and we trust him in that spot every time."
Unlike the district championship, Fulton added an insurance run in the sixth. But, before that play happened, Macon intentionally walked Hornets star Dusty Hagens to fill up the pads.
Following the free pass, Fulton's Gohring stepped up to the plate and showed why he's all-district, plating Burt on his sacrifice fly to deep center.
Taking the mound for the bottom half of the sixth, the Hornets' Gohring forced a groundout to him to begin the frame, then allowed a Mykel Linear single to short -- shortstop Hagens made a Derek Jeter-like throw to first, but Linear beat it.
After a mound visit, Gohring regrouped, throwing some heat, striking out Macon's No. 2 hitter Lewis on three pitches, and forcing No. 3 batter Tanner Nelson to fly out to right for the last out of the inning.
With one more frame at the plate to extend their lead, the Hornets tried their best, putting the ball in play every at-bat. After a Miles Bethell line out to second, Fulton's Gabe DeFily singled up the middle then Wilfley made it two straight base hits with his going past third into shallow left.
Unfortunately for Fulton, Macon thwarted the rally by turning a 6-3 double play to end the frame.
Luckily for the Hornets, a two-run lead was enough for Gohring.
Gohring showed why he's "Mr. Fulton," sending Macon (22-7) down 1-2-3 while punching out the second batter to send the Hornets to the state quarterfinals.
Fulton's choice of throwing a pitcher Macon had already seen this season worked. On the contrary, the Tigers' strategy of choosing a starter the Hornets hadn't faced backfired.
"We talked about it long and hard as a team on what was our approach wherever we want to," Lorentzen said. "We watched the Mexico game versus them and what their pitching did. We just kind of came up as a team. I gave them a couple of options, and that was the one we wanted. We wanted to put Walker on the bump. He's just nerves of steel. Just nothing rattles him, and that's the guy you need in that situation."
Taking the loss, Macon's Burns allowed two unearned runs on a hit and three walks while striking out two in five innings.
With the victory, Fulton's fairytale run under first-year coach Lorentzen, which may all seem like a myth, remains a reality.
"It seems like a reality now. That was definitely not seemed even obtainable at the beginning of the season," Lorentzen said. "...these boys, they're fearless right now. That's a good thing to have."
Fulton (18-8) will travel to St. Charles to face St. Charles West (16-14) in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday.
While public school St. Charles West isn't receiving state-ranking votes like Macon, it and Class 5 private school Lutheran South (12-18) came the closest of the MSHSAA schools at trying to beat the highest-ranked team left in Class 4, second-ranked private school John Burroughs (25-3) -- its three losses came against prep schools, and all those defeats happened in March. St. Charles West lost 8-7 at John Burroughs on May 7, while Lutheran South fell 2-1 at the Bombers on May 2.
"It's nice knowing that we have Dusty coming up on the mound, who has been phenomenal for us," Lorentzen said. "So I mean, they're gonna have to beat our best guy. ...We know we've got to put some bats together and come out a little bit quicker than when we came out today to give them a good run for their money."