PEORIA — With heavy rains sweeping through the Peoria area Saturday, the Illinois High School Association decided to bring a premature end to the Class 2A state baseball championship game and wiped out the third-place game entirely.
As a result, Freeburg and Westmont will share third place in the official records and Pleasant Plains claimed the state championship with a 7-1 victory over Byron.
"The kids were upset," said Freeburg coach Drew Gericke, whose team lost 5-2 to Pleasant Plains in the semifinals on Friday. "Even though it was a third-place game, they wanted to play. They were never ready for their season to be over."
IHSA officials waited through a rain delay of 4 hours, 5 minutes before making their decision.
That decision did not go over well with Byron coach Ray Bielskis or his players. Especially since Byron was trailing 7-2 and had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning when officials decided to put the tarp on the field.
When a game is called, it reverts back to the last full inning and Byron was down 7-1 after the fifth. The game began at 1:40 p.m. and had been moved ahead of the third-place game trying to beat the weather.
"I don't want to take anything away from Pleasant Plains, we didn't play our best and that happens," Bielskis said. "It's just a tough way to end it. I can't argue with Mother Nature right now, but when you've got 10 seniors and you've got to look them in the eye and tell them you can't play on, I've got a problem with that."
IHSA assistant executive secretary Craig Anderson cited heavy rains, with more coming, and deteriorating safety conditions as the prime reasons the decision was made to cancel the rest of the tournament.
"We saw storms coming and it wasn't easy to pull the tarp when we did," Anderson said. "We were trying to maintain safety of the field and then it got to the point where the field was no longer safe. If we were ever going to have the opportunity to play again, we had to pull the tarp when we did.
"Now for four straight hours we've just been pounded with rain, there's standing water all over the outfield. It's just not safe to put kids out there and try to finish tonight."
So they didn't.
Even before the decision was announced, several Byron players were visibly upset in the dugout and on the field after being told of the possibility their season was over. One slammed a bat on the ground and appeared to be crying while being consoled by Bielskis.
Pleasant Plains (31-11) celebrated its championship in the corridor level of Dozer Park, intermingling with players and fans from the other four teams who were all posing for team photos and receiving their trophies and medals.
Fireworks went off above the center field fence and while some players were celebrating, others had tears streaming down their faces.
Did Anderson and the IHSA consider the situation with Byron rallying and still having a chance to win the game?
"I sure did," he said. "I waited what I thought was an extensive period of time to try to allow (Pleasant Plains) to get the third out or to get something to happen (for Byron). But it got to a point where it just wasn't safe any more."
Anderson said "it's an absolutely last resort" to play any state playoff games on Sunday.
Gericke became emotional when talking about the start that senior pitcher Milton Pinkston would have gotten in the third-place game.
"I really feel bad for Milton," Gericke said. "Milton deserved to pitch on this field. He worked so hard and he was a huge part of us being here. I just wish he had a chance to pitch out on this field because he really deserved it."
Headed for McKendree University, Freeburg senior pitcher Nick Yung won't soon forget his final game with the Midgets. Especially since it wasn't played.
"Third place is great," he said. "We came here to do more, but there's a lot of teams out there that wish they were in our position so it's hard to it's hard to be too mad about it.
"We can't really control what's going on, Mother Nature's going to win. There's nothing we can really do about it."
The situation was just as awkward for Pleasant Plains, which also endured a rain delay last season on the way to a second-place finish.
"It would have been nice to finish it, but we really dominated this game," said Pleasant Plains coach Dave Greer, whose team took advantage of five Byron errors and got two RBIs from Cole Hamilton. "You don't want it not to be a complete game, but it's an official game."