After battling back from a 6-1 deficit Monday in the super-sectional, an early 4-0 hole Friday brought no panic from the Okawville Rockets at the Class 1A state tournament.
Okawville erased that 4-0 deficit and fought back to grab a 5-4 lead in the fifth, but watched Goreville pull away with four runs in the sixth for an 8-6 semifinal victory that sent the Blackcats into the state championship game.
“I don’t know what it is about getting down four or five runs, but they feel like they can always come back and make a game out of it,” said Okawville coach Jackie Smith, whose 19-14-1 squad will play Salt Fork (23-16) for third place at 9 a.m. Saturday in Peoria. “I respect them for that.
“For them to come back and make a statement in later innings and do what they did, I think it was pretty special. Even though it didn’t work out, I think the way they carried themselves was very admirable.”
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A bizarre play with two outs in the second inning helped get things rolling for Goreville (27-6). The bases were loaded when Braden Webb hit what appeared to be a routine ground ball off Rockets starter Shane Ganz that was headed toward Okawville second basemnan Will Aubel.
The ball hit something and bounced high over Aubel’s head as two runs scored. Brodie Lenon followed with a two-run single that made it 4-0 and forced the Rockets to play catch-up all afternoon at Dozer Park.
I don’t know what it is about getting down four or five runs, but they feel like they can always come back and make a game out of it.
Okawville coach Jackie Smith
“Realistically just looking at it, we’re a bad hop away from playing in the championship game,” Smith said. “Three runs come off that one play, a ball that’s hit tailor-made and bounces three feet over my second baseman’s head, who’s in perfect defensive situation.”
Okawvile began cutting into the lead almost immediately as Drew Frederking’s RBI double in the second made it 4-1.
Brad Fuhrhop added a two-out RBI double in the third and the Rockets seemed headed for their second straight state title game appearance.
Especially after a two-run single by Alec Wisneski tied it in the fourth innings and the Rockets took a 5-4 lead in the fifth on another two-out hit by Noland Crane. Crane was 3-for-4 with an RBI.
“It felt a lot like the super-sectional game where they got out early and then we kept chipping away, chipping away,” Fuhrhop said. “We just couldn’t get it going far enough.”
“It definitely felt like we had overcome the obstacle and we were going to head out and win the game,” he said. “That’s baseball, it just doesn’t happen like that.”
Goreville broke through for four more runs in the sixth following a leadoff walk and a one-out triple by Jared Vaughn. Lenon also had an RBI triple during the uprising
Okawville had the bases loaded in the fourth with no outs, then did it again in the sixth. In the fourth, Frederking found himself too far off base after Wisneski’s two-run single and was tagged out.
It felt a lot like the super-sectional game where they got out early and then we kept chipping away, chipping away. We just couldn’t get it going far enough.
Okawville catcher Brad Fuhrhop
In the sixth, Lenon came on in relief and got Wisneski to hit into a bases-loaded double play. A run still scored to cut the Goreville lead to 8-6, but Lenon retired Payten Harre on a fly ball to left and then pitched a scoreless seventh to clinch the win.
“They’re good, they can chip away and they’ve got some good hitters in that lineup,” saiod Goreville coach Shawn Tripp, whose team beat Okawville 3-2 in early April. “We knew it wasn’t going to be 4-0. We kept telling the kids we’ve got to keep swinging, try to score some runs.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to them, they’re a good team.”
So are the Blackcats, who will battle Somonauk (24-6) for the state title at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
“With this group of kids we knew we had a chance to go deep in the playoffs,” Tripp said. “We didn’t know how far, though. We want that big trophy. I want those kids to play for it, they deserve it. We’ll see what happens.”
Okawville can’t be too disappointed with a second place finish last spring and either third or fourth in 2016. Few schools make back-to-back state tounament trips - and even fewer have the comeback ability possessed by the Rockets.
“I never asked them to come back and that’s the honest to God’s truth,” Smith said. “They don’t quit. I’d say there was probably a better chance that they had to pick me up a couple times rather than us having to pick them up.”