Big ninth-inning rally carries Lakeland to win over Blue Storm

The Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm will be the top seed when the NJCAA Region 24 Tournament begin next weekend.

But thanks to a ninth-inning collapse Friday, SWIC isn’t the co-champions of the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.

The Lakeland College Lakers rallied for seven runs in the top of the ninth inning as they shattered the title hopes of the Blue Storm on Friday with a wild 14-13 win.

SWIC (27-15), which clinched the Region 24 regular season title and top-seed in the region playoffs by sweeping a doubleheader from Lakeland on Thursday, carried a 13-7 lead over the Lakers into the top of the ninth and twice were within a strike of the GRAC crown.

But for one of the first times all year, the Blue Storm couldn’t close the deal.

“What happened in the top of the ninth inning? We made two errors and threw to the wrong base another time. You can’t give a team five outs in an inning and expect to get away with it,” Blue Storm coach Neil Fiala said. “I’m always telling the guys that a game is never over until the last out and today proves it.

“(Pitcher) Ty Stahl didn’t have it today and we got down 7-1 then scored 12 straight runs to lead 13-7. But the errors killed us and Zac (Sparks), who has been so good in relief as our closer the last two years, didn’t have good stuff today either. That happens. As a manager you hope the players remember what happened today and don’t allow it to happen again.’’

Because of the loss, SWIC finishes GRAC play with a 15-9 record. John A. Logan College finished with a 16-8 mark.

SWIC, which closes its regular season Tuesday when it hosts the Webster University junior-varsity, will host a first-round best 2-out-of-3 series against a still to be determined opponent, May 2-3.

“We’ll find out maybe on Monday, but more then likely it will be on Tuesday. Some teams still have several conference games left,’’ Fiala said. “Right now, it’s looking like maybe we’ll be playing Shawnee (College).

“Everybody is 0-0 starting next weekend and the first one to two wins moves on to the Region 24 final four.’’

Contact reporter Dean Criddle at or 618-239-2661.