All season there's been something different about this Lisle baseball team compared to past Lions teams that boasted superior talent.
Until Monday, it was difficult to put a finger on the differences.
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Lisle, after winning the program's first sectional title Saturday, advanced a brilliant step farther with Monday's tense 5-4 victory over Beecher in the Class 2A Benedictine University supersectional in Lisle.
The victory sends the Lions (21-10) to the state semifinals for the first time, where they'll face Monday night's winner between Teutopolis and Carlyle at 3 p.m. Friday in Peoria.
"We set a goal at the beginning of the season, worked our tails off and we're here," said Lisle leadoff hitter Cliff Krause, who doubled twice and scored twice. "Day One in the gym, coach (Pete Meyer) put a picture up of Peoria. In the back of our heads I don't know if we really thought we could do it but we grinded every day, got through it and we're here."
After Beecher scored twice in the top of the sixth to narrow the Lions' lead to 5-4, the Bobcats (15-15) batted in the seventh hoping to extend the game off Lisle reliever Ryan Van Volkenburg, the winning pitcher in Saturday's sectional final.
Van Volkenburg responded by setting down the Bobcats in order on 9 pitches. It was the only 1-2-3 inning for Lisle (21-10) and the only inning without a hit for Beecher, which outhit the Lions 11-4.
"It was a back-and-forth game the entire game," Van Volkenburg said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We knew it was going to be a battle throughout the entire game. Definitely a very tense game."
Back-to-back two-out doubles by Beecher starting pitcher Chase Wyatt and cleanup hitter Mike Pignatiello put Beecher ahead 1-0 in the top half of the first before Lisle struck for a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Brian Czyl and a run-scoring groundout by Kevin Coppin.
Lisle's 2-1 lead didn't last long. Nick Hermanson drove in Nick Burkhardt with a single in the top of the second, a frame where Beecher nearly scored additional runs but had a runner thrown out at the plate on a baserunning miscue.
The missed opportunities came back to hurt Beecher, which had 8 hits through three innings against Lisle starter Alex Ventrella.
"We got quite a few hits today, which is something we're not usually doing in a game," said Beecher coach Brandon DuBois said. "But nobody got the next hit, the big hit in an inning to string something together."
Jake Oard's sacrifice fly gave Lisle a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, an advantage that grew to 5-2 in the fifth on an RBI double by Krause and a key error.
Beecher took advantage of 2 Lisle errors in the sixth. Two unearned runs, including one that scored on Wyatt's single down the right-field line, pulled the Bobcats within 5-4.
With Pignatiello at the plate and runners at first and third, Van Volkenburg struck out the powerful right-handed hitter to escape the sixth without further damage.
A struggle for six innings finally became a breeze for Van Volkenburg and the Lions in the top of the seventh as they continued to make program history.
"It's unbelievable -- exactly how you think it'd feel," Meyer said. "We thought we had an opportunity last year, and we didn't do it. So let's make up for it. Let's go this year."
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit