Baseball: Coal City rallies past Manteno to reach sectional final
Coalers plate seven runs in fifth inning
By Rob Oesterle
MANTENO – Wednesday’s Class 2A sectional semifinal baseball game between Coal City and Manteno would have been right at home on a playground, as it had more ups and downs for both teams than a teeter-totter.
In the end, Coal City had just enough ups to come away with a 10-9 win over the top-seeded Panthers, earning the right to play for a sectional championship Friday at home against Ottawa Marquette, who beat Chicago Christian, 13-3.
It was the second straight game that the Coalers (13-9) had defeated an Illinois Central Eight rival who had beaten them twice during the regular season. Coal City beat Reed-Custer, 14-9, to win the regional title in a game that spanned two days because it was suspended by darkness.
Coal City jumped out ahead early, scoring three runs in the top of the first. With one out, winning pitcher Brady Best singled, followed by walks to Trent Sandeno and Chase Wasielewski to load the bases. Ashton Harvey followed with a two-strike double down the right-field line to score both Best and Sandeno, and a single to left by Nolan Berger scored courtesy runner Aiden Hanson, but Harvey was thrown out at home.
Manteno chipped away at the Coalers’ lead, scoring single runs in the first and second innings before scoring three in the third and two more in the fourth to take a 7-3 lead.
Coal City did not go away, however, and took advantage of some Manteno mistakes to score seven runs in the top of the fifth, all with two outs. The first two Coalers were retired, but Harvey and Berger each reached on an error. Abram Wills, playing in just his second game because of a leg injury that sidelined him most of the season, one-hopped the fence in left, and Harvey and Berger came around to score. Alec Lovell then reached on an error and Riley Ponio walked to load the bases. Aydan Murphey was hit by a pitch to score courtesy runner Caden Kuder. Manteno starter Edan Perez had reached his pitch limit and was relieved by Nolan Aicher. Best greeted Aicher with a single to center that scored both Lovell and Ponio to give the Coalers an 8-7 lead. Sandeno then hit a ball that was booted by the second baseman, and both Murphey and Best scored to make it 10-7.
“I was excited to come up with the bases loaded,” Best said. “I knew what I had to do and it came out well.
“I was really pumped up on the mound that next inning. It’s a lot different pitching when you have the lead. It’s a lot better. We just want to keep playing. We never thought we were out of it.”
Best retired Manteno in order in the bottom of the fifth, but the Panthers weren’t done yet, either. In the sixth, Eric Beck led off with a single and Bryce Vorwald walked. A wild pitch during Cole Jackon’s at-bat, which ended in a strikeout, moved runners to second and third before Luke Trepanier singled to left to score both Beck and Vorwald, with Trepanier taking second on the throw home. After Best struck out Jack Snyder looking, he had reached his pitch limit and Coal City coach Greg Wills summoned sophomore Braden Reilly to the mound. Reilly got Perez to pop out to first to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Reilly retired Aicher to start the inning. Alex Juranich then singled to left-center and tried to stretch it into a double. However, a perfect throw from Harvey was in time to get Juranich at second. Reilly then got pinch-hitter Grant DeRosa to ground to second to end the game.
“There were a lot of nerves, coming in as a sophomore,” Reilly said. “I just tried to throw strikes and I trusted the guys behind me.”
Not only was the game full of ups and downs for the Coalers, but the season has been as well.
“We are definitely a different team now than we were at the start of the season,” Coal City coach Greg Wills said. “Abram Wills was down most of the year. He has been a leader of this group for a long time and other guys have stepped up. Brady Best, Aydan Murphey, Ashton Harvey. Harvey is a catcher, but he plays center field and made a great play in the last inning. We’ve been piecing things together, and these guys have taken their roles and put us in a position to win.
“Not a lot of people gave us much of a chance to be standing here right now getting ready for a sectional title game, but these kids kept buying into what we were telling them and I couldn’t be prouder of a group of players. They just kept playing, they never got down, they kept coming and things opened up. And what a job by Braden Reilly. He’s a sophomore who had six varsity innings before today and he came in and shut the door.”