PEORIA — When your team hasn't been to the state baseball tournament since 1982, a fourth-place finish isn't a bad thing at all.
Especially for the New Athens Yellow Jackets, who fought off Kentucky recruit Keegan McHood's bid for a no-hitter Saturday but still lost 7-1 in the Class 1A third place game.
New Athens third baseman Ryan Reuss broke up McHood's no-hitter with a clean single to left in the bottom of the seventh.
"When we started out 1-7 it wasn't looking really good," said New Athens center fielder Charlie Rousan, whose team finished 19-19. "Then we won a couple ballgames...we just rolled through regionals, sectional and the super-sectionals and by the time we got up here everybody was like 'wow.'''
A look around Peoria's Dozer Park on Friday and Saturday to see the many fans that came up to support New Athens showed Rousan and the Yellow Jackets how big of a deal it was.
"It felt really good because we never really have a very big fan section besides our parents," Rousan said. "Whenever I look up in the stands and I see maybe somebody's grandma or their relatives or people that are just family friends, it feels really good to know that they came here just to watch us."
Already committed to Kentucky as a junior, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound McHood (11-1) was dominant throughout and finished with 11 strikeouts for the Bombers (24-6). His fastball was clocked in the 85-87 mph range.
"We've been watching Keegan pitch all spring, this is what Keegan does," Argenta-Oreana coach Tom Saunches, who has 509 wins in 30 years of coaching. "I think the bigger the stadium, the better he pitches. He's thrown a lot of innings in the last nine or 10 days and it's just a gutsy performance by him to go without his very best stuff, but with good stuff."
After Nick Ozier walked leading off the bottom of seventh for New Athens, Reuss followed with a single to left field. McHood was replaced on the mound by Griffin Sparks, who allowed another hit to Lucas Mueller that loaded the bases.
Reuss said New Athens coach Jimmy Wahlig predicted the end of the no-hitter
"(He) told me and Nick Ozier that if Nick doesn't get a hit I want you to, so I did," Reuss said. "It was a fastball just a little bit inside. That's a pitch I like to hit, so I did."
Dylan Toedte broke up the shutout with an RBI groundout, but Sparks retired Charlie Rousan and Tyler Brandenburger to nail down the win.
"I felt better as the game went on," McHood said. "The first couple innings my elbow was tight and it was tight before the game. I didn't feel like I could really get much on my fastball."
He had enough on it to quiet the New Athens bats.
"I think it just comes down to their pitcher today," New Athens coach Scott Wine said. "We were just kind of outmanned there. He threw the ball well (and) he was just wild enough that it was hard to dig in on him.
"I think we only hit one or two balls hard off of him all day, so that's the story line right there."
Argenta-Oreana scored two runs in the first on an RBI single by Cole Banks and a New Athens throwing error.
Bombers center fielder Logan Jackson unloaded on a pitch from New Athens starter Ozier in the third, driving it deep to left for a two-run homer.
The Bombers added another run in the fourth and two more in the sixth to put things out of reach.
As a pitcher, Ozier appreciated McHood's performance.
"He was one of the best we've seen," Ozier said. "He had a hard fastball and his curveball was really nice, too. He hit his spots and kind of did his thing. We didn't touch him much."
Wine was just happy to still be upright after spending nearly three hours in the hospital Friday painfully dealing with a kidney stone.
"Yesterday morning it started off and I just thought maybe my nerves were getting the best of me," said Wine, whose team lost 5-4 in 10 innings Friday in the 1A semifinals. "My stomach was really bothering me. It really hit me about the second innings yesterday; I started feeling terrible."
Wine had originally planned on coming back to Dozer Park to watch the Freeburg game, but instead was in the emergency room.
He said he was given medication and was back in the dugout Saturday for the third-place game.
Illinois Lutheran won the 1A state championship Saturday with a 12-2 victory over Webber Township.