PEORIA — Ryley Wallin had only one homer all season, so the timing for No. 2 couldn't have been better.
Wallin's two-run blast put Gibault on top in the fourth inning Saturday and the Hawks tacked on four more runs to win the Class 1A state baseball championship with a 6-2 victory over Putnam County.
"That was awesome," Wallin said of his two-run shot to left off Putnam County pitcher Cody Ballerini that wiped out an early 1-0 deficit and lit a championship fire under his teammates. "I went up there thinking I needed to do something to get us back into this, so it felt really good."
After Putnam County (24-11) tied it in the sixth on an Xavier Warren's RBI triple, Wallin put the Hawks on top to stay when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run.
The win gave Gibault (25-11) its first state baseball championship. The Hawks celebrated in a massive pile near the mound on top of Wallin and winning pitcher Zach Neff.
Neff struck out Jake Kasperski for the final out as he and Wallin embraced before being mobbed by their teammates.
"We missed it at the super-sectional, somebody beat him out there so it was just me and him this time," said Neff, a junior left-hander who improved to 8-2. "It means a lot, the first (state title) in our program's history. It's a great feeling."
Hawks coach Andy Skaer got a good look at Wallin's homer, which sailed deep over the fence in left and immediately restored confidence for Neff and Gibault.
"Absolutely, without a doubt," Skaer said. "We knew that we were going to have some opportunities because we were putting good swings on the ball and were hitting the ball solid. Ryley losing that one to left field was just a huge momentum swing and it really got us back in the ballgame."
A leadoff double by Wes Degener sparked the four-run rally in the sixth.
Degener eluded a tag play during a rundown to put runners at second and third, helping set the stage for a big inning. He wound up being safe at third and Matt Schreder, who had beat out a grounder to third, ended up on second.
"I saw their shortstop got the ball and I knew he was pretty fast and I had to run pretty hard," said Degener, who was 5-for-6 in two state tourney games with a double and three runs scored. "When he gave it up I just decided to try to make it to third and I guess I was lucky enough to dodge the tag."
Putnam County coach David Garcia agreed.
"Too many throws," Garcia said. "Once you get beyond 2 throws, the advantage goes to the baserunner. We made a sweep tag, he got out of the way, the umpire was on top of it and made a great call. We just didn't get it done."
Putnam County then issued an intentional walk to Auggie Ward to load the bases.
That proved to be a bad idea, especially since Ballerini (7-3) then hit Wallin with the next pitch to force in the go-ahead run.
"It was an interesting strategy they used there, walking Auggie (Ward) to get to Ryley, who had just hit a home run his last time up," Gibault coach Andy Skaer said. "But a first-pitch, hit-by-pitch for the game-winning RBI in a state championship game. ... You can't really top that."
Alec Skaer delivered an RBI single to make it 4-2 before Mitch Meyer chased two more runners home with a single to right on an 0-2 pitch.
With Neff on the mound, that proved to be more than enough offense. He allowed a one-out double in the seventh, then struck out the last two hitters to bring the state championship trophy back to Waterloo.
Neff allowed five hits and struck out eight without a walk.
"When it was 4-2 I knew that was enough for Neff, but then when we got two more to make it 6-2 and I knew it was over from there," Degener said.
Putnam County took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Jack Egan tripled into the right-field corner and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly to center by Austin Pletsch.
Putnam County missed another scoring chance in the third when Harold Fay popped up a squeeze bunt to the first baseman, who threw to third for an inning-ending double play.
To a man, the Gibault players pointed to Wallin as the guy that helped send them on their way home with the state championship.
Wallin also had a two-run double Friday in the sixth inning of Gibault's 9-2 semifinal win over Shawnee.
"We were kind of down on ourselves, then Ryley came up with a big home run," Neff said. "That was clutch. That brought a lot of energy to our bench and sparked us for the victory. In B.P. (batting practice) he always knocks a few over the wall, so we expect it from Ryley."