HYDE CREEK — Since taking the field as the Hyde Creek Hillbillys bat boy two decades ago, Keith Balcke has seen a lot of highlights on the diamond.
On Sunday, he added his own.
Balcke turned on a belt-high fastball from Port McNeill hurler Nick Russell and sent it just over the left field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Hillbillys to an 8-7 victory over the Rangers in North Vancouver Island Baseball League action.
The walk-off homer, which finally ended a game scheduled for seven innings, was a career first for Balcke in NVIBL play.
“It was a fastball, right down the gut,” said Balcke, who was leading off the inning. “I thought it had a chance, but I didn’t know. I never hit one before.”
Hillbilly Ray Bono was scheduled to bat fourth in the inning, but said he hoped his teammates would end it before he had the chance. Moments later, Balcke’s long drive was headed toward Hyde Creek Road and Bono yelled at it, “Get outta here! Skate!”
The Hillbillys spilled from the dugout to congratulate Balcke as he jogged the final leg of his journey from third base. But Russell beat them there and offered his foe a wry grin and a handshake.
The hit ended a yeoman night of work for Russell, who went the distance and struck out 10 batters before absorbing the loss. Staked to an early 4-1 lead, he was hurt by a pair of unearned runs in an error-plagued fourth inning, then surrendered a two-run single to Glenn Moore in a four-run sixth that pushed the Hillbillys (2-3) ahead 7-4.
But the Rangers (2-4) were not finished. Russell banged out an RBI double in the top of the seventh and Greg Johnson followed with a two-run double to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Curtis Carmen, the third Hillbilly pitcher, recovered from his rocky seventh to shut out the Rangers over the final two innings and pick up the victory.
The Rangers drew 11 walks and left 18 runners stranded in the contest. They loaded the bases in all three innings against Hillbilly reliever Ryan Rushton without touching him for a run, and Rushton was in line for the win before the Rangers’ seventh-inning outburst.
Ivan Hall went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs, Tom Cessford doubled and scored, and Adam Dmetrichuk drove in a run for the winners.
Russell was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and two runs for the Rangers. Tyler Berry and Jordan Altmiks each reached base six times, and Ed James and Rob Kenny delivered RBI singles.
Cubs 16, Rangers 7
On Saturday, the Cubs (4-1) blew open a 1-1 game with a 10-run third inning. All but one player scored in the inning, and Jason Hodson and Jordan Campbell scored twice each. The Cubs face the Hillbillys tonight at 6:45, then the league will take a break until the weekend of June 18-19.