Thurston, Danville hold heads high
SAUGET — Chase's Thurston enjoyed a 1-2-3 first inning in Monday's Class 3A super-sectional baseball game.
One of the outs, and two of the strikes on the second batter, came before a brief — but heavy — rain soaked GCS Ballpark. Thurston got the second out on his next pitch after a 6-minute delay and completed the inning with a strikeout.
In the second inning, Triad struck for eight of its runs against the Danville junior.
"They can flat-out hit," Thurston said, "but the balls coming back (after the delay) were wet. I tried to battle through it."
Facing a lineup of nine .300 or better hitters, he wasn't successful. Triad won 13-4.
Danville coach Gary Gritton will always wonder, "What if?"
"We knew the curve had to be the pitch today, but he was never sharp with the breaking ball after the first inning," Gritton said. "He had a hard time gripping it. We'll never know how much the weather was a factor.
"We were thin on pitching (with Cash Kiser on a trip to Taiwan) and Chase gave us the best outing he could. Next in line was a sophomore (Austin West) who has maybe thrown 12 innings all year."
Designated hitter West had the first of Danville's five hits and the only one that didn't come in the third inning.
The Vikings (22-15) scored all of their runs in the third, an inning that started with two outs. A Nik Shepherd walk was followed by four consecutive hits. Chuckie Robinson started the parade and was followed by Tanner McQuown (who drove in a run), Michael Vascura and Reece Imler. Imler's double knocked in three runs.
The Vikings take satisfaction in their achievements, winning the school's first sectional crown in 29 years.
"We never quit fighting," first baseman McQuown said. "We've raised the bar. There will be expectations to go a step past this. We can achieve bigger and better things."
Gritton, for one, is optimistic about the future.
"With the guys we have back, there's a chance," he said. "I told our guys who are returning we'd like to be back in a beautiful place like this next year."
Artificial turf was installed at GCS Ballpark prior to the season.
One team (Danville) had a four-hour bus ride to reach the super-sectional site.
The other team (Triad) had a 20-minute commute.
As expected, the spectator section favored Triad, but it wasn't like the seats down the first base line were empty behind the visiting Danville dugout.
"Our fans have been terrific, and we appreciate it," Gritton said. "Saturday (sectional finals at Mahomet), I think our side outnumbered (Springfield) Sacred Heart's."
Season-ending losses generally bring sullen faces, tears and a desire to immediately get away from the facility.
Long after Monday's interviews had ended, Danville players remained in the outer concourse, taking in the scene and taking pictures at the facility, which seats 6,000.
"We exceeded all expectations," Thurston said. "This is something special. To be here is incredible."
The loss was easier to accept, Gritton said, because it wasn't due to Danville errors or mistakes.
"The scouting report was that they're a great hitting team, and they're as good as advertised," Gritton said. "They hit the ball with the best of them."
Seniors who suited up for the final time as athletes at Danville High School were Imler, McQuown, Shepherd, Jon Cotten, Dillon McGraw, Dalton Michael, Corey Neal and Ian Richards.
Michael, Shepherd and Thurston all reached base on walks. Imler and McQuown had hits. Cotten (shortstop) and Richards (right field) were also starters.
"This has been a fun group," Gritton said, "a very enjoyable year."