MAHOMET — Champaign Central baseball coach John Staab acknowledged his team's first inning against Charleston for what it was.
A missed opportunity.
Central loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first inning against Trojans' starter Ben Hess.
And didn't score a run.
The Maroons' fifth inning was a near-perfect replica bookend. Bases loaded, one out and nothing to show for it on the scoreboard as Charleston finished off its run-shortened 12-1 victory in a Class 3A regional title game.
"That was a big turning point," Staab said. "We just didn't get it done there. ... In this ballpark you think you can get a few, but you knew Hess was going to be pretty good. Just a golden opportunity there early that we let get away from us. That hurt for sure."
Giving Hess a reprieve turned out to be the last thing Central (27-10) could afford. The 6-foot-4 Charleston right-hander is a high-level prospect in the state in the Class of 2021, and he had Illinois pitching coach Drew Dickinson and Eastern Illinois assistant Julio Godinez watching Saturday afternoon.
Hess ultimately struck out five in four innings for the Trojans (24-11-1), and the only run he gave up came on Central second baseman Jake Cochrane's lead off solo home run in the third.
"That gave him some momentum," Staab said of Hess pitching out of the first-inning, bases-loaded jam. "He's a good pitcher. We knew that going in. He kind of settled in. That was a big point in the game early we didn't take advantage of."
Charleston coach Derrick Landrus made an early mound visit after Cole Jones drew a walk to start the first and Connor Milton and Chris Wurl singled to load the bases. Landrus knew the importance of the moment but also said he was confident in Hess' ability to pitch out of trouble.
"It's the first time he's been in maybe that big of a spot," Landrus said. "I told him, 'If you get an out here, you'll be OK. Settle down here and get an out, and I've got a feeling you'll get locked in.'
"A hard groundball to short got us out of the inning. If that gets in the gap, they score two or three. They're a great team that we just beat — as good a team as we've seen all year."
Central was just out of sorts Saturday after crushing Mount Zion 15-1 in Wednesday's sectional semifinal. The Maroons went from 13 hits against the Braves to five on Saturday. The defensive numbers took a hit, too, with five errors against the Trojans.
"We've been fielding pretty well up until (Saturday)," Staab said. "I think our team fielding average was somewhere around .940. We were averaging one error the last four games. ... It felt like kind of death by a thousand paper cuts. Just wasn't our day for sure.
"Gosh, we won 16 out of 18 coming in. This certainly wasn't that team (Saturday). You've got to give Charleston credit. They played a lot better than we did. They had a better approach at the plate and moved the ball more than we did. They battled."
Charleston simply took advantage of Central's missteps. Every inning with a Maroons' error — or two — resulted in multiple runs for the Trojans to pair with what's been strong pitching and defense all spring.
"It's as good as we've swung the bats all year back to back days these two days when we needed them the most," Landrus said. Charleston beat host Mahomet-Seymour 7-1 on Wednesday in semifinal action. "Guys were just smoking the ball all over, and our defense is top notch. It's not a fluke. We've held teams to two runs or less in 23 games or something like that. It's unbelievable, but that's how we win — pitching and defense. If we can swing it, we're going to be in real good shape like (Saturday)."