COAL CITY — Coal City knew Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A Coal City Regional championship against Morris would be a difficult game to win, as evidenced by the Coalers’ narrow 3-2 victory against it during the regular season.
Although they had found the formula to beat Morris during the season, the Coalers couldn’t quite pull the same result, as they saw their season end with a 4-2 loss to their geographic rivals.
The Coalers ended their season with a 27-5 record, including an unblemished 14-0 run in the Interstate Eight Conference.
“I thought we played a pretty solid ball game,” Coal City coach Greg Wills said. “But Morris played almost a perfect game.
“They made every play and took advantage of absolutely every opportunity they had, and that’s what it takes to win ball games in the postseason.”
Morris pitcher Jacob Overbeck helped himself out early when he drove in Cole Laurie in the top of the first inning to put Morris on the board. With runners on second and third with no outs, Coalers pitcher Keegan Gagliardo worked himself out of the jam to prevent any more runs from scoring in the inning.
The Coalers would tie the game when freshman Abram Wills plated Connor Best in the bottom of the second inning.
“Abram got called up later on in the season because we needed an extra bat,” Greg Wills said. “He’s been hitting the ball well and he had a big one for us today. We’ll be expecting big things in the future from him.”
Alex Cameron broke the tie for Morris, hitting a sacrifice fly to score Matt Lopez, making the score 2-1 in the top of the fifth inning.
The Coaler bats were cold until the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs, when Connor Best blasted a solo home run to tie the game a 2-2.
Best said despite his teammates’ struggles to hit Overbeck, he was able to read the right-hander’s pitches well.
“I was on him all day because I was reading his fastball well,” Best said. “He came at me just a little high in the zone, and I turned on it. It felt super good, especially in this type of game.”
Best came in to relieve Gagliardo in the seventh inning and immediately struck out the first two batters he faced.
He walked the next two batters before Cameron roped a double to score the game’s final two runs.
“I would like to say we gave this one away,” Wills said. “But I think Morris just came out and played great baseball and won the ballgame.”
While the loss was painful for the Coalers, Wills said he knows his young team has a plethora of talent returning next year led by a talented junior crop.
“Our program is in pretty good shape right now,” Wills said. “ It was just a tough one today.
“The fact is that we are really, really young. Our second baseman and pitchers were seniors. Everyone else is a freshman, sophomore or junior. We’ll bring almost everyone back next year. We should be a tough out next year, and from what I understand, we should be dropping down to [IHSA] Class 2A as well.”
Gagliardo pitched six innings, giving up one earned run and striking out eight. He was also 2 for 3 with a double at the plate. Best was 2 for 2 with his homer.