Tuscola baseball at Final Four: Notebook
PEORIA — Tuscola and Lena-Winslow aren't strangers in the athletic arena. In November 2010, the Warriors and Panthers hooked up in the Class 1A football title game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Lena-Winslow won 47-14.
After Tuscola beat the Panthers 10-2 in the Class 1A baseball semifinals on Friday at O'Brien Field, Tuscola coach Duff Hoel recalled the football setback.
"They all played in the football state championship game when Lena-Winslow beat us," Hoel said.
T.J. Onstott, Tuscola's designated hitter who started at linebacker in that football game, quickly interjected.
"They stomped us," he said.
Whether it matters or not, Tuscola's players felt they exacted a measure of revenge with Friday's baseball win. It was something they talked about in the days leading up to the semifinal.
"They remember that we used it as a motivator this week," Hoel said. "They were better than us, they were good."
Tuscola was the better team on the diamond, jumping to an 8-0 lead after two innings. And while it feels nice to have avenged that football loss, the more important thing for this group is trying to bring home the school's first state championship trophy in baseball.
"It's a big deal, for me particularly. I'm a baseball guy, not necessarily a football guy," said shortstop Dillon Hoel, a starting receiver. "It's a big deal to have the town behind you. We had a great showing from two hours away. It's just great that we have that much support and for the program to have that much recognition."
If the Warriors are to bring home the big trophy today, they'll have to conquer a familiar opponent. Effingham St. Anthony, which beat Alton Marquette 6-2 in Friday's other semifinal, defeated the Warriors 4-0 on April 7 in Tuscola.
"They're sound, they're well-coached, they've got good pitching," Duff Hoel said. "The young man that's going to throw for them tomorrow, I'm assuming, is the one that beat us. He went a complete game, I think we only had one or two hits against him. He shut us down. He's a good pitcher. We've got our hands full, we know that.
"We're swinging the bats pretty well right now and we'll throw him out there and see what we've got."
The Bulldogs (30-8-1) are expected to start senior right-hander Reed Willenborg today. Willenborg is 8-5 with a 1.69 ERA. He's struck out 99 in 87 innings. He tossed a three-hit shutout against the Warriors in April.
For as well as he pitched Friday, Tuscola's Jacob Barr must have had a good night's sleep Thursday.
He didn't. Tuscola stayed at a Peoria-area hotel Thursday night. Barr would have preferred to rest in his own bed.
"The person I was sharing a bed with (Josh Brookins), he rolls in his sleep a lot, I ended up sleeping on the floor," Barr said.
"I was kind of angry about that. He tosses and turns and I was so angry about that. I ended up sleeping on the floor and I did good."
If sleeping on the floor means throwing complete-game two-hitters without allowing an earned run, Barr would have started sleeping on the floor in March.
Members of Tuscola's 2008 fourth-place baseball team were on hand Friday. That included Ryan Tabeling, who was the Warriors' head coach four years ago.
Tabeling, like many Tuscola fans, took in both the softball semifinal game and the baseball game, both of which were played in the Peoria area.
Tabeling, a former Champaign Central and Parkland baseball standout, had a particular interest in the softball game. His daughter, Amber, is a freshman reserve for Lenny Sementi's squad.
Amber, who has contributed in reserve duty in spots this season, didn't play in Friday's 1-0 loss to Payson Seymour.