BIG WIN: Southwestern’s Gage Hartman (above, far left) is mobbed by teammates Brad Sims, Darius Whitson-Spegal (11) and Adam Jackson (10) after his bases-loaded hit in the bottom of the seventh lifted the Rebels to a 7-6 win over Eastern (Pekin). Whitson-Spegal (below) turns a double play as Eastern’s Logan Maudlin slides into second base. Whitson-Spegal had four hits in the win. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
BIG WIN: Southwestern’s Gage Hartman (above, far left) is mobbed by teammates Brad Sims, Darius Whitson-Spegal (11) and Adam Jackson (10) after his bases-loaded hit in the bottom of the seventh lifted the Rebels to a 7-6 win over Eastern (Pekin). Whitson-Spegal (below) turns a double play as Eastern’s Logan Maudlin slides into second base. Whitson-Spegal had four hits in the win. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Gage Hartman laced a two-out, bases-loaded single to right in the bottom of the seventh to lift Southwestern over Eastern (Pekin) 7-6 in the Rebels' baseball opener on Monday.

Hartman, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, drove a 3-2 pitch off Eastern reliever Shane Williams to set off a celebration of his Rebel teammates on a sunny, but chilly early April game.

"Gage is a great kid and he's a hard-worker," Southwestern coach Derik Hutton said. "He's the kind of kid that wants to hit in that situation. It doesn't matter if he's hitting leadoff, third or ninth, he's just a tough kid all-around. He learned from his previous at-bats where he didn't look as good and made a quality swing and got a huge hit for us."

It was Hartman's second hit of the game and allowed the Rebels to pull out a win in a game in which they had to come from behind on two different occasions.

After trailing 3-0 early, Southwestern got a run in the fourth when Brad Sims singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

The Rebels went ahead 4-3 with three runs in the fifth. Hartman got a one-out bunt single, Cory O'Neal reached on a fielder's choice and Darius Whitson-Spegal singled in a run. Mackenzy Withered drove in two more runs with a single to center.

Eastern wasted little time getting the lead back. The Musketeers touched Rebel starter Withered for three runs in the top of the sixth, the big blow coming on a two-run single by Cory Shepherd.

Despite giving up the lead, Southwestern didn't back down and immediately went back to work.

"It shows you what this team is made of," Hutton said. "It's still early in the season, there's a lot of things that need to be played out and they could have stopped twice. It says a lot about our kids."

Matt Schwartz got the Southwestern comeback started in the sixth when he drew a one-out walk and scored on Adam Jackson's single to cut the lead to one.

Whitson-Spegal, who had a monster game at the plate with four hits, two runs scored and three stolen bases, opened the seventh with a single and promptly stole second.

Two outs later Whitson-Spegal was still at second base and Southwestern's chances were starting to dim. But Tristan Embs worked a walk from Williams and Schwartz hammered a tying ground rule double to deep left field that would have ended the game if the ball had not bounced over the fence forcing Embs to stop at third.

Jackson was then intentionally walked to load the bases and bring Hartman to the plate where he delivered his big hit.

Four of Eastern's six runs in the game were unearned thanks to five Southwestern errors, including all three runs in the second inning. The extra outs eventually forced Withered from the mound and the senior took a no-decision despite a strong five and two-thirds innings.

Sims gave up just a hit in an inning and a third of relief to pick up the win.

"Mackenzy battled and really threw well. Unfortunately he threw more pitches than we wanted him to," Hutton said. "But Mackenzy wanted the ball and he wanted to go back out there in the fifth. Brad came in and pitched very well. This is a win we wanted and I decided to go with another starter. Brad pitched well in the summer and fall and he continued that today."

Along with Whitson-Spegal, Withered swung a big bat with two hits and two RBIs. Sims also had a hit.

Brayton Brading and Scott Ames had two hits each to lead Eastern with Ames getting a double and scoring twice. Logan Maudlin and Shepherd each had a hit and two RBIs.

Williams took the loss in relief after allowing three runs on four hits with three strikeouts and four walks in two innings.

Dustin Miller started and was dominant for the Musketeers with eight strikeouts and just two walks before running out of gas in the later innings. He ended up allowing four runs on seven hits in four and two-thirds innings.

Although just one game, Hutton couldn't help but believe that Monday's comeback could portend a good season ahead.

"I think not having that success in the past couple of years has really wore on them," Hutton said. "That's what we're hoping for. You get tired of getting the low end of the stick and getting beat like we have the past couple of years but they have been making strides. It started last year and we've been building on that over the fall and the winter. It's starting to show now. That was a gutsy performance."

Southwestern hits the road for a test at always tough Brownstown Central today then comes back home to host rival Madison on Thursday.