It has taken the Okawville Rockets an entire season just to reach the .500 mark. With one more victory, no one will worry about the record since it would mean the Rockets are the proud owners of a state baseball championship.
“I’m just so emotional I don’t even know what to do. Being here, going to the state championship, it doesn’t seem like reality,” said Okawville second baseman Mason Drury, whose two-run single in the sixth inning Friday helped the Rockets come from behind to defeat Okaw Valley 5-3 in the Class 1A state tournament semifinals at Dozer Park.
Okawville (17-17) had a 2-0 lead until the fifth, when starter Brendan Killion (9-3) lost his no-hitter and then lost the lead when the Timberwolves (26-7) pushed across three runs.
Throughout this magical playoff run, the Rockets have almost been better playing from behind than playing with the lead. That was the case again Friday as they found a way to get it done.
They lost their first five games and endured another five-game losing streak later in the season, but the Rockets are still alive. They will play the Cobden Appleknockers (26-6) for the state title at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
“There’s a lot of teams that started out with a better than 0-5 record and a lot of teams that aren’t here right now,” Killion said. “We’d rather be here than starting out 5-0.”
“I said on the first day of practice we had a chance of doing something pretty special and they bought in,” Okawville coach Jackie Smith said. “It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been an amazing ride.”
That ride will continue one more day as the Rockets, who were the No. 3 seed in their regional, will finish no worse than second in the state.
Killion took a no-hitter and 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, then hit Ian Tiarks with a curveball that didn’t curve before allowing a double to the fence in left by Cody Drake. Joe Jeffers followed with an RBI single, then Peyton Hagerman drove in two with a single to right-center that gave Okaw Valley a 3-2 lead.
“Joe gets a big hit and Peyton puts us in the lead and it just feel like you know, it’s just meant to be us this year,” Okaw Valley coach Andrew Hagerman said. “It just felt like that. When I waved that last runner in I thought ‘Oh my goodness did that just happen?’ because we just felt dead in the water most of the game.
“When that happened and Peyton struck the first guy out in the sixth, I looked at (our assistant) coach and thought ‘We’ve got this.’ Then the wheels fell off on us a little bit.”
They didn’t just fall off, the Rockets broke out a socket set and loosened the lug nuts with one of their trademark late-inning rallies.
Ben Schuette, who was 2-for-4, singled with one out and a hard-hit ball by Nolan Crane eluded Okaw Valley third baseman Taylor Coleman. Alec Wisneski was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Drury, who spanked a two-run single to right to put the Rockets back on top 4-3.
“I had a feeling he was going to throw me a fastball,” Drury said. “It was on the outside of the plate and I just put a simple swing on it and drove it out to right like I did early in the game. I found a spot to get my guys home.”
Wisneski scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-3 and Killion took over from there. He allowed four hits overall and struck out five, including three of the final seven hitters he faced.
Okawville got doubles from Brad Fuhrhop and Dakota Garlich in the first two innings, but failed to score as Okaw Valley starter Peyton Hagerman kept working in and out of trouble.
The Rockets loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but Hagerman got Killion to ground out to second.
Okawville finally broke through in the fourth following a one-out single by Schuette. Shane Ganz smoked a double past the center fielder to put runners at second and third, then Schuette scored from third on a wild pitch that sailed behind Wisneski.
Wisneski made it 2-0 when he drove an RBI single to center field.
The bottom of the Okawville lineup scored four of the five runs, with Schuette scoring twice.
“I think that’s probably top to bottom the best contact hitting club we’ve seen this year with a couple guys that could belt it,” Coach Hagerman said. “They probably flew out two or three times today that at a lot of places we play it would have been home runs or doubles, so credit them. They’re tremendous hitters, a good ballclub.”
Game at a Glance
OKAWVILLE FOURTH: Ben Schuette reached on a one-out single and Shane Ganz doubled past the center fielder. Schuette scored on a wild pitch and Alec Wisneski drove in Ganz with an RBI single to center.
Okawville 2, Okaw Valley 0
OKAW VALLEY FIFTH: Ian Tiarks hit by a pitch with two outs and Cody Drake doubled to the fence in left for the Timberwolves’ first hit. Joe Jeffers RBI single was followed by a two-run single by Peyton Hagerman.
Okaw Valley 3, Okawville 2
OKAWVILLE SIXTH: Ben Schuette singled with one out and Noland Crane reached on an error. Alec Wisneski hit by a pitch to load bases with two outs for Mason Drury, who lined a two-run single to right. Wisneski scored on a wild pitch.
Okawville 5, Okaw Valley 3