MAPLE PARK – Kaneland senior Dylan Conklin has competed in a plethora of baseball games throughout his young career and has encountered a number of strange and different situations the game always seems to provide.
What Conklin experienced Monday afternoon in the top of the eighth inning during the Class 3A Kaneland Regional championship against Benet made the Knights’ star know it was his strangest game by a long shot. No. 3-seeded Kaneland outlasted No. 2 seed Benet, 9-7, in shocking fashion in a wild extra inning affair that took eight innings to complete.
“It was a crazy game, and to be part of the craziest play I’ve ever been involved with in my life was incredible,” Conklin said.
With the game tied at 6 with nobody on and two out in the Kaneland eighth, Cole Pugh singled off Benet relief pitcher Max Babich and went to second base after Alex Panico, who had three hits, stroked a single to right.
That’s when baseball lunacy ensued.
And it ensured the Knights’ sixth regional championship in program history.
Conklin was front and center.
Conklin bounced what seemed to be a sure out to end the inning, but it was misplayed by the Redwings’ third baseman and the ball skirted into left field. Pugh, running on the play, headed for the plate for the go-ahead run and scored when the Benet left fielder’s throw sailed over the head of catcher Tyler Dean.
Panico was hustling from first on the overthrow and scored when Dean’s throw to Babich covering the plate nailed the home plate umpire in the head and bounced off him, sending the umpire to the ground.
Conklin scampered home and gave the Knights a 9-6 lead after three errors on one play and a sequence of events that more than likely never will be duplicated in Kaneland baseball lore.
“I knew when I hit the ball I had to move fast, and when I saw the ball go into the outfield I was gonna go to second base,” Conklin said. “Then all the chaos started and I never ran faster to home in my life. I didn’t know the ball hit the umpire, and I just kept running and scored after my bad at-bat on the infield turned into something so special. Baseball is a crazy game sometimes and it was today for us in a great way.”
Conklin was the winning pitcher for the Knights, throwing four innings of relief after starter Luke Wituk and Johnny Spallasso pitched. Conklin recorded the last three outs in the bottom of the eighth after his improbable at-bat a half inning earlier.
“In my playing career, my coaching career, my everything baseball career that’s easily the wackiest baseball play I’ve ever seen,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “I’m so happy to have been a part of it, and our guys battled hard to get to that point against a very good Benet team. This is a win we surely never will forget.”
The Redwings (17-14) took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first after an RBI from Jackson Bayer. The Knights countered with three runs in the top of the second to go ahead 3-1 on run-scoring singles by Gabe Gooch and Panico.
Collin Laughlin’s RBI single for Benet in the bottom of the inning closed the gap to 3-2 before Kaneland scored two unearned runs in the top of the third to go in front 5-2.
The Redwings scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to cut the deficit to 5-3 before two more trotted home in the last half of the fifth on RBIs by Peter Messina and Cole Rosenthal to tie things up at 5.
Kaneland went ahead 6-5 in the top of the seventh on Spallasso’s RBI double that scored Conklin.
Benet scored an unearned run off Conklin in the bottom of the seventh as Messina reached on an error and scored on Dean’s double to send the game to extra innings.
The eighth-inning madness then took place and despite a leadoff home run from Bayer in the bottom of the eighth, Conklin closed out the wild affair.
“Anytime you have an insane play like that in a game, you want to blame that play,” Benet coach Scott Lawler said. “I’ve never seen a play like that before, but there were other things also that cost us today. We started off the season 2-8, but I’m really proud of us even though we couldn’t get the win.”
Kaneland will face Dixon at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Class 3A Sycamore Sectional.