PEORIA — Herscher threw everything including the kitchen sink at the defending 2A state champion Teutopolis Wooden Shoes on Friday.
But experience and composure propelled the champions back to the big dance.
The Tigers (33-8) battled tough, sending the game into eight innings, but an RBI single from Drew Thoele drove in the winning run and ended Herscher’s quest for a 2A state title with a 5-4 loss.
“Teutopolis has such a storied tradition and the guys knew what they were up against,” Herscher coach Eric Regez said. “We competed and played extremely well, but it came down to a couple of plays here and there.”
Kaden Hubly wasted no time putting Herscher on the board in the bottom of the first. With runners on second and third, he launched a 2-1 pitch to straight center field for a two-run double to put the Tigers ahead 2-0.
“Kaden is always a tough out,” Regez said. “He’s a tough line-drive hitter. We have confidence that when he goes up to bat, he’s going to put the bat on the ball and give a chance just like he did.”
The Wooden Shoes (30-6) answered back with a bloop RBI single to shallow right field off the bat of Drew Thoele in the third to cut the lead to 2-1.
With momentum still on the Tigers’ side, Luke Cross delivered a two-out, RBI single to right field that pushed Herscher’s lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth.
However, a huge momentum swing was ensuing.
In the top of the fifth, Teutopolis found themselves at-bat with the bases loaded and just one out. Ethyn Dust took full advantage and ripped a three-run double down the left field line to give the Wooden Shoes their first lead of the game, 4-3.
“At that point, the big decision was whether to make a pitching change or not,” Regez said. “Whether we did that correctly or not is up for debate. Anthony (Koranda) pitched an outstanding game before giving way to (Tyler) Jarnagin. They both kept us in the game and gave us chances.”
But Herscher wasn’t going away that easily.
In the bottom half, McKinley Keenan, who already had gone down on strikes twice, come through in the clutch with an RBI double, scoring Tyler Stuart and tying the game at four.
However, it was the Wooden Shoes with the dagger in the top of the eighth off Thoele’s RBI single for the win.
“They came through with the big hit after a two-out walk,” Regez said. “That’s to their credit. Those kids have been in big pressure situations and they know how to respond.”
Herscher had a number of opportunities to either create separation or retake the lead multiple times, but struggled to make contact in those moments.
During the bottom of the second, the Tigers had runners on second and third with a 2-0 lead, only to pop out to the second baseman to end the threat.
Later in the sixth, after Keenan’s double to tie the game, the bases were loaded with only one out only follow that with a strikeout and a fly out.
In the bottom of the seventh, with runners on first and second with one out, the Tigers promptly popped out to second base and then struck out to send the game to extra innings.
“Looking back, we need to get some timely hits and we couldn’t get them,” Regez said. “But I’m proud of the guys.”
Jarnagin suffered the loss in 3 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, an earned run and striking out five batters.
Hubly led the Tigers, batting 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, andKeenan and Cross each had an RBI.
Herscher returns to Dozer Park in Peoria to play in the third-place game at 3 p.m. against Tuscola.
“Third place is better than fourth place, so we’ll put forth our best effort to end on a high note,” Regez said.