MORRIS – Some losses are easier to take than others. If a team is better than you, fine. You can accept that. If you played your best, but it just wasn’t good enough that day, it’s easier to swallow. But if you didn’t play your best, you’re always left wondering what could have been, and that’s the tough one.
Unfortunately for Coal City’s baseball team, the third option is the one that will sit with them until next season after Thursday’s 5-3 loss to LaSalle-Peru in the semifinals of the Class 3A Morris Regional.
“This was a heartbreaker,” Coal City coach Jerry McDowell said after his team rallied from a 2-0 first-inning deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth, only to see L-P score three in the bottom half on a pair of hits down each line that could have gone differently. “We didn’t play well today. We had been improving with our infield defense all year, but we threw it around quite a bit today.”
Two Coal City throwing errors led to two unearned runs for LaSalle-Peru in the first inning, and the Coalers, who finish with a 16-16 record, were in catch-up mode the rest of the game. Fortunately, sophomore right-hander Brad Littleton was able to keep the Cavaliers off the scoreboard with some clutch pitching almost all the rest of the game.
Even just allowing the two runs in the first was a feat for Littleton, who escaped jams of two on, no outs in the third, second-and-third in the fourth and runner on third with no outs in the fifth before finally running out of gas in the sixth.
“I can’t say enough about Brad Littleton,” McDowell said. “This is the first time all year that he’s pitched into the sixth inning. He is a gamer, and he kept coming up with big pitch after big pitch for us.”
The fifth inning was possibly his best escape. Ben Bejster led off by reaching on an error, then stole second and went to third on a throwing error. Littleton got cleanup hitter Noah Lamboley to ground out to third, then struck out Max Strickland and Kyle Rothrock to end the inning.
That escape was big, because the Coalers had just cut the lead in half in the top of the inning. Zach Scerine came off the bench to pinch-hit and got a two-out single and then stole second. He scored when D.J. Budde singled to left to make it 2-1. Littleton’s escape in the bottom half of the inning fully swung the momentum in the Coalers’ favor.
Coal City kept the heat on in the top of the sixth, as Lane Cowherd led off with a walk, then stole second and went to third on an error. Littleton was intentionally walked before Alex Wills singled up the middle to score Cowherd and tie the score at 2. Dillon Siejka sacrificed the runners to second and third, and a wild pitch scored Littleton with the lead run.
“We had some guys come off the bench and do a nice job,” McDowell said. “Scerine did a good job for us and so did Siejka. With a runner on third, Joe Quinn sent a grounder up the middle, but Lamboley, who had moved to shortstop, made a nice play on it and threw Quinn out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Brady Huebbe doubled to left and courtesy runner Elliott Lewis scored when Nate Burris singled off of first base. Ty Brovelli then grounded to third before Erik Milaicki and Bejster walked. Zach Mellen replaced Littleton to face Lamboley, who doubled down the third base line to score Burris and Mialicki to put L-P ahead 5-3.
“One down each line,” McDowell said. “One hits the bag or it would have been an out, and one was a questionable call on whether it was fair or foul. But, you can’t give up runs like we did early.
“We have a lot of young guys on this team. We’re only losing two senior starters (Cowherd and Wills). We got a taste of what you need to do in a regional and what we need to work on.”