PEORIA — The drama was followed by a mystery.
Coaches — and the 345 spectators — were informed prior to Saturday’s Class 1A third-place game at Dozer Park that the contest would end after five innings, regardless of score.
Wolf Lake Shawnee scored twice in the bottom of the fifth for a 2-1 walkoff win. However, coach Chad Pitts said his team didn’t feel pressure to score the final run to avoid a rare tie.
“Before the fifth inning, they (IHSA personnel) said it would go to a sixth inning (if tied),” the 29-year-old Pitts said.
Salt Fork coach Gary Hansgen was disappointed the game didn’t go to a sixth and a seventh inning. The 31st-year coach didn’t see the need to play shortened games for third place in Class 1A and 2A to help ensure the title games could be played in full.
“It’s disappointing that it came to that, especially with a 20 percent chance of rain in the afternoon,” Hansgen said.
The outcome of the game was secondary in the big picture, Hansgen said.
“We came here to win,” he said. “Whether you’re second, third or fourth, down the line it will be a trophy. We got something.”
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Salt Fork’s 13-player, all-underclassman team got a taste of what it’s like to compete at state. The Storm has its sights set on a return in 2014.
“We’re working on a state championship for next year,” junior catcher Noah Darr said.
Few would have predicted the squad’s strong postseason surge.
“They kept surprising us. Even though we lacked seniors, I was high on the pitching staff we had,” Hansgen said.
“With no seniors, a bunch of juniors, a sophomore and freshmen, no one expected us to make a big run,” Darr said. “The pressure is on next year.”
Junior pitcher Cole Taylor seconded that notion.
“I expect to be here again next year,” Taylor said.
A repeat appearance won’t just happen because the team sets it as a goal.
“We’ll have to push ourselves in the offseason,” freshman right fielder Colton Baird said.
“Being here and taking it all in, we know what it takes to get here,” junior center fielder Ross Learnard added. “This was definitely heartbreaking, but a lot of teams would love to be in our position.
“It was cool to be here, a fun experience.”
Learnard had more putouts than any outfielder in the third-place game. He tracked down four fly balls.
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The Storm’s season ended with consecutive losses in games it was unable to hold 1-0 leads.
“It hurts to have been up 1-0 in both games,” Taylor said, “but the atmosphere and being around games all day is fun. Fourth in the state is a great accomplishment.”
Learnard said the group of friends had an enjoyable weekend.
“We’re all really close,” he said. “Going out to eat, having fun at the hotel and taking it all in was fun. Playing baseball made it even better.”