CHAMPAIGN — Casey Erickson watched live when John Staab’s Champaign Central baseball team defeated Chatham Glenwood in a 2017 Class 3A sectional championship game.
“I know him and Pat — a former coach here, Pat Moomey — have had their battles,” Erickson said. “From one classy team to another, I’ve got nothing but respect for them. They play hard and they never quit.”
The Maroons’ ceaseless tenacity still is on display under Staab in 2021. But the Titans, now coached by Erickson, possess the same sort of grit.
“I’ve worked my butt off for 20 years to get this program on par with programs like Chatham,” Staab said. “Just not quite there (Wednesday night).”
Chatham staved off Central 7-5 in an eight-inning Class 3A sectional semifinal game Wednesday night at Spalding Park.
The third-seeded Titans (13-9) and top-seeded Maroons (22-10) displayed plenty of never-say-die attitude as one squad had to drop the curtain on its season.
That wound up being Central when Chatham produced two eighth-inning runs on just one hit.
“Our kids grinded, and they have been here for the most part the last two months,” Staab said. “So (I’m) proud of them. Just didn’t play clean enough.”
The teams combined to use seven pitchers — the Maroons deploying five — who threw 334 pitches over the course of three hours. The teams also combined for five errors, 16 strikeouts, 11 walks issued (10 by the Maroons), 17 runners left on base, two runners caught stealing and one runner picked off.
On Central’s side, senior ace Ben Dickerson was the lone athlete unavailable to take the mound after tossing a complete game during Monday’s regional final win against Rantoul.
“We were going to just try to mix and match and just try to piece something together,” Staab said. “Kids battled. Just didn’t play clean enough.”
The Maroons’ pitching carousel began when sophomore starter Kendall Crawford surrendered a leadoff home run to junior Nolan McMasters during the first inning and a two-run shot to junior Jase Daley during the second to give the Titans a 3-0 lead.
“You always want to throw the first punch and get ahead and support your pitcher,” Erickson said. “That’s what we did.”
McMasters just so happened to be that starting pitcher. He sent down senior Nate Allen and juniors Jake Munroe and Carter Hall in order to open his night on the mound, but things never again were that smooth.
Freshman T.J. Pipkins singled in a run, senior Jack Doubet scored on an error and Pipkins scored on a passed ball to tie the game at 3 in the second inning.
Staab’s No. 4-9 hitters achieved most of the Maroons’ offensive damage, accounting for all five runs and seven of the club’s nine hits.
“Good to see,” Staab said. “Those guys have grown a little bit.”
The Titans pulled ahead 4-3 during the third inning when junior Eli Curtis singled in a run against Central junior Will O’Gorman. Chatham extended its edge to 5-3 on an RBI single from sophomore Parker Detmers.
As the Titans were picking up runs, McMasters was fighting off hordes of Maroons looking for the same.
McMasters worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third inning and stranded runners on second and third in the fourth.
“I know he was beat,” Erickson said of the future Illinois-Springfield athlete. “He threw over 100 (pitches). It’s the most he’s thrown all year. ... I can’t imagine taking him out. I couldn’t. Got to win or lose with him, so we rode him as long as we could.”
That wound up being six innings and 111 pitches. But Central scratched across two more runs before McMasters’ exit, both in the fifth inning, to tie the game at 5. Crawford scored all the way from first base on a throwing error, and Pipkins drove in Doubet with a long sacrifice fly to center field.
Sophomore Owen Hobbs and senior Leo Severin kept Chatham off the board during the sixth and seventh innings, with Severin inducing an bases-loaded, inning-ending double play off junior Will Plattner’s bat in the sixth.
McMasters and Curtis silenced the Maroons over those two innings, as well.
But Severin encountered trouble in the eighth. Daley singled to lead off after Hall was unable to field a popup behind home plate earlier in the at-bat. Daley advanced to second on a wild pitch before junior Sam Hulvey walked.
McMasters then hit a potential double-play grounder to Munroe at shortstop. The transfer to sophomore Charlie Cekander at second base went off without a hitch, but Cekander’s toss to first got below Pipkins’ glove and allowed junior pinch runner Garrett Rath to score to give the Titans a 6-5 lead.
Allen eventually relieved Severin and allowed an RBI groundout by Curtis before cleaning up the inning.
Central’s Mitchell Crompton singled with two out in the bottom of the eighth, but Curtis fanned Allen to end the Maroons’ hopes.
“Just a back-and-forth game, but we just ... kept picking guys up,” Erickson said. “I knew we were going to come out on top. I just had that feeling.”
The difficult outcome for Staab’s crew joined that of St. Thomas More baseball, for which Staab’s son Blake plays. The Sabers lost to Mt. Pulaski 9-5 on Wednesday in a Class 1A sectional semifinal.
“I’m not going to lie: I kind of keep track of that, and it’s hard,” John Staab said. “It’s hard to miss my son’s stuff. ... But I’m dedicated to this program and these guys.”