MORTON – The Streator High baseball team has conjured some road magic this postseason, posting wins at Galesburg and at Dunlap to capture the program’s first regional championship in more than a decade.
Wednesday night in Morton, the underdog Bulldogs’ magic ran out.
All of the scoring came in the game’s first and third innings – Streator with one run in each frame, the host Potters with three in the home half of those innings – and when the infield dirt settled, Morton bested the Diamond Dogs in a Class 3A sectional semifinal at beautiful Mike McDonald Field, 6-2.
“That’s how it goes when you get to this level. One team out-hits you a little bit and gets a couple more runs, and that was it. We couldn’t find a way to scratch back like we have most of the season.”— Streator baseball coach Beau Albert
Morton (14-11) moves on to 3A’s Sweet Sixteen and a title-game matchup with Washington.
Streator (17-8) sees a return-to-form season for the program come to a close.
“I’m happy with the performance of our kids,” Streator coach Beau Albert said. “We stung some balls and hit ‘em right at people, we didn’t make many errors in the field (one in the first inning), but that’s how it goes when you get to this level.
“One team out-hits you a little bit and gets a couple more runs, and that was it. We couldn’t find a way to scratch back like we have most of the season.”
The Bulldogs struck first, scoring one in the top of the first off Potters right-hander Ben Draeger. Leadoff man Nolan Barr and No. 2 hitter Sean McGurk led off the game with consecutive singles, and with one away cleanup batter Logan Williamson drove Barr home with an RBI groundout to third.
Draeger halted the momentum right there, however, stranding two in what would prove to be a recurring and costly theme for the ‘Dogs.
In Morton’s turn in the first, the Potters’ offense went after Bulldogs starter Mason Telford early in the count, opening with three straight hits, then adding a sacrifice fly courtesy of Mac Anderson for the 3-1 lead.
Streator stranded two more in the second, and Telford retired the Potters 1-2-3. Then came the third, with Payton Benning’s two-out walk turning into a run with a Brady Grabowski double and an odd dropped-third strike where the catcher went to tag batter Parker Phillis without the ball, and Benning with heads-up running broke for the plate and beat the tag.
But again Draeger stranded a pair of Bulldogs on the bases, and when Morton added three more runs – on Draeger’s second double of the night and RBI singles courtesy of Ethan Hurst and Tate Roley – the Potters had built their 6-2 advantage and chased Telford (2 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 K).
Adam Williamson (3 2/3 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K) came out of the bullpen and was spectacular again, keeping Morton at bay in the bottom halves. In the top halves, however, Draeger grew more dominant with the comfortable lead, pumping the strike zone and allowing just one SHS hit – a Sawyer Good leadoff single to open the fourth – from there on out.
“[Draeger]has been absolutely phenomenal all year,” Morton coach Jesse Crawford said. “His record, 4-2 or 5-2, whatever it is, is not indicative of how good he’s been. Coming into tonight he had 61 strikeouts and six walks on the year.
“I can’t say enough about Ben Draeger. … I’m proud of our group, and Streator had a great run too.”
Draeger finished with the complete-game win, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out eight.
“We got the run early on ‘em, and things looked good,” Albert said of Draeger, “and then two innings in a row had second and third on ‘em, but we just couldn’t come up with a two-out hit. Hat’s off to the Draeger kid. He was dealing, his slider or slurve or whatever was nasty, and he was mixing it up with a powerful enough fastball that, if you’re up there guessing and he throws it, it’s going to be by you before you have a chance.”
Streator did manage to get the potential tying run on deck in the seventh and final inning, as Barr (base on balls) and McGurk (hit by pitch) both reached, but drew no closer and saw its season come to an end.
“[The team is] upset about the game,” Albert said, “but I told them, ‘You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.’ It’s been a long time, and the five seniors brought the program back in recognition by winning a regional and doing it the hard way.
“Ten years from now when those guys come back through the (SHS) Commons, they can come through and see their plaque and a picture of the 2021 regional champs.”