PEORIA — Salt Fork went through April and May without losing consecutive baseball games.
The Storm will try to continue that streak into a new month Saturday when it faces Wolf Lake Shawnee (22-6) for third place in the IHSA Class 1A state tournament at Dozer Park.
“It’s gonna be kind of weird,” junior Cole Taylor said. “After a loss, you feel like you’re done, but the third-fourth-place game is a great accomplishment.”
The team’s ace this year (9-2 record), Taylor will take the mound for the 10 a.m. (time approximate) third-place game.
Taylor worked one-third of an inning in Friday’s 3-1 semifinal loss to Putnam County, throwing six of his eight pitches for strikes.
Salt Fork third baseman Max Stutsman doesn’t expect the Storm to be unprepared to play its final game.
“I’m definitely confident in our team,” Stutsman said.
Ross Learnard appreciates the chance to have a farewell game to the season.
“It’s fun being here with the buddies you’ve grown up with,” he said, “and we have an awesome support group.”
Coach Gary Hansgen would expect nothing less than a maximum effort from his 31st team.
“We’ll be resilient and come back and battle,” he said. “We’re tickled to be here. It’s remarkable for what we’ve been able to pull off (for having no seniors).”
Salt Fork had one two-game losing streak this season, dropping both games of a doubleheader to Unity on March 23.
Shawnee was held to one hit and committed five errors in its 9-2 semifinal loss Friday to Waterloo Gibault.
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
The field name might not sound familiar, but the reasons for the change should be easily recognizable.
The IHSA state baseball games are being held in the facility formerly known as O’Brien Field (where the minor league Peoria Chiefs play their home games), but it now is called Dozer Park.
The naming rights became open after the previous contract with the O’Brien automobile dealership expired, and Caterpillar’s substantial financial contribution resulted in a change about three weeks ago to Dozer Park.
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
The IHSA cleared up a misconception that many in the media — and perhaps in the stands — didn’t understand.
Salt Fork’s 1-0 lead after five innings of Friday’s semifinal opener would not have resulted in a win had storms stopped play. Craig Anderson, the IHSA administrator for baseball, said any state games delayed by rain would be picked up where they left off if conditions improved later in the day.
However, if the field was unplayable the remainder of the day and the tournament resumed on a different date, a game that had reached at least five innings the previous day would be counted as official.
Putnam County coach David Garcia said the rain that caused a delay in the start of Friday’s second game “was in the back of our minds” but didn’t add to pressure to score against Salt Fork, which led 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth inning.
“We saw it getting darker, but we knew eventually we’d put the ball in play,” Garcia said.
The same completion-of-game rule applies at state in softball as well.
There is one difference in the IHSA sports at the Final Four.
Foul balls at Dozer Park are souvenirs for the baseball fans who retrieve them, but balls hit out of play at the softball tournament must be returned to the game.
✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
The quality of play in the Putnam County/Salt Fork game was shown in the final box score. Neither pitcher issued a walk. Each team had one extra-base hit, and neither squad committed an error.
Salt Fork’s five hits included a triple by Cole Taylor and singles by Lane Weston, Connor Taylor, Colton Baird and Noah Darr.