Flying the coop: Eagles win in walk-off fashion

Flying the coop: Eagles win in walk-off fashion

RANTOUL — Chad Vermillion almost waited too long.

With the scored tied at 5 and Rantoul teammate John Frerichs facing an 0-2 count with two outs in the eighth inning of a Class 3A Champaign Central Regional baseball game at Wabash Park, Vermillion stood at third base as part of a bases-loaded opportunity.

When Chargers pitcher Ben Hannauer's inside pitch banged off the glove of the Centennial catcher and rolled to the backstop at Wabash Park, Vermillion hesitated.

"I thought it hit John for a second. With his body language, I was thinking the ball just hit him," Vermillion said. "And then coach started yelling, and I just ran in there as fast as I could."

After the initial hesitation, the Eagles junior sprinted home for the game-winning run in a 6-5 victory that advanced No. 8 seed Rantoul (16-12) to a 4:30 p.m. semifinal showdown on Wednesday with No. 1 Mt. Zion (24-5) at Illinois Field.

"I had to get in there as fast as I could," Vermillion said. "(Afterward) everybody was like, 'What were you thinking?' And I was like, 'I don't even know.'"

"I tell the guys, 'If I have to tell you to run on a passed ball, it's probably going to be too late,'" Rantoul coach Jon Donovan said. "I knew it was a passed ball, and I'm waiting like, 'He's not going.' And then I screamed at him, 'Go!' So he finally took off. Luckily, I didn't kick him in the rear end because it would've been interference and an automatic out."

But all's well that ends well for the Eagles, and a crucial factor in their victory came down to the game's biggest hit — a single off the bat of sophomore Nolan Riddle in the seventh inning.

Trailing 5-4, Eagles senior Garet Kinnett was hit in the arm on the first pitch of the inning before Nolan Roseman's sacrifice bunt advanced Kinnett to second. Riddle then stepped up and cracked the game-tying hit to center field on the first pitch he saw to knot up the score.

"Nolan Riddle, as a sophomore, may have gotten caught up in the moment," Donovan said. "I told the guys before the game that Centennial's going to be loud. Not obnoxiously loud. They don't talk to the other team. They're just loud for each other. Sometimes it's a distraction, and I could tell he was nervous in his first couple at-bats. He was swinging at every pitch. I told him, 'Just chill out. You're a sophomore. If you do anything positive in an at-bat it's a plus for us.'"

Colin Klein's solo home run in the second inning helped give the No. 9 seed Chargers (8-24) a 2-0 lead before Frerichs' two-RBI double tied it at 2 in the third.

Hunter Hoffman's sacrifice fly and Kinnett's RBI double in the fourth gave the Eagles a 4-2 lead. In the fifth, Dayton Coleman plated a run for Centennial, and in the sixth, Evan Jordan pushed two more runs across with a shallow fly ball that dropped just in front of diving center fielder Hayden Cargo.

Rantoul starter Adam Crites tossed seven innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits with five strikeouts to one walk, and Roseman pitched a perfect eighth inning.

"With the exception of the last run, it's not like we just gave it away," Centennial coach Ryan Remole said. "They hit the ball well, and they just made plays. Hats off to Coach Donovan and the Rantoul players. We knew it would be tough to score when Nolan Roseman got on the mound. I think he's one of the top pitchers in central Illinois. He's very, very good.

"I'd be a lot more disappointed if we had kicked the ball around and just played bad baseball. But I don't think we played bad baseball. They hit the ball where we weren't. They painted the alleys perfectly. It's not like my guys weren't hustling out there. Rantoul just played better."