Small ball led to the biggest win in Jacobs baseball history Thursday.
Trailing Hononegah by a run in the bottom of the eighth inning of a Class 4A Huntley sectional semifinal, the Golden Eagles turned a walk and four straight bunts into a 2-run rally and a 3-2 victory.
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No. 9 hitter Matt Hickey -- whose consecutive errors at shortstop in the top of the eighth led to Hononegah's go-ahead run -- redeemed himself with a walk-off bunt single, scoring Aaron Meciej from third base as the Jacobs dugout emptied in celebration.
"I was just trying to get my head cleared after that last, rough inning," said Hickey, who credited hitting coach Mike Krueger for calming his nerves in the middle of the eighth. "It was nice to get (the bunt) down."
The victory advances Jacobs (24-11) to a sectional title game for the first time. The Golden Eagles will face none other than District 300 nemesis Dundee-Crown (11-18) for the title on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Chargers are led by first-year head coach Jon Anderson, who coached Jacobs' senior class when they were sophomores.
"He's really good," Meciej said of his former coach. "He's going to do some good things, we're going to do some good things and we're going to see who comes out on top."
The winner gains a berth in Monday's Rockford supersectional against either St. Charles East (25-11) or Wheaton North (27-8).
Hononegah (23-10) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning with an unearned run against Jacobs starting pitcher Evan Blunk. Daytona Bryden singled with one out and scored on Nick Naber's double to left field, coupled with an outfield error.
The Golden Eagles responded in their half of the first with a run off Hononegah ace Donovin Sims. Greg Sidor lined to the second baseman, who dropped the ball but was able to complete a force play. Ben Murray scored from third base on the fielder's choice to knot the score at 1-1.
That's how it remained until the top of the eighth, thanks to a tenacious pitching duel between Blunk and Sims, who both took no-decisions. Blunk allowed 2 runs (0 earned) on 4 hits. He struck out 7 and walked 2 in 7 innings.
Sims lasted 6-plus. He held Jacobs to 1 earned run on 8 hits, struck out 3 and walked none. He was lifted in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single by Jon Berndt. Indians reliever Riley Pawelski subsequently walked Joe Rizzuto and beaned Sidor with a pitch to load the bases, but a groundout ended the threat.
Hononegah caught two breaks in the top of the eighth when Hickey committed back-to-back errors to put Indians at the corners with one away. Junior Reilly Peltier relieved Blunk and was immediately greeted by a successful squeeze bunt from Colin Schreck, scoring Bryden for a 2-1 lead. Peltier limited the damage by inducing a bases-loaded flyout to end the inning.
Back came the Golden Eagles. Connor Conzelman drew a leadoff walk and Meciej pushed a bunt past Pawleski toward second base for a hit.
"(Coach Jamie Murray) told us where to put it and we put it right there," Meciej said of the bunts. "We got it right through and got some good stuff out of it."
Nick Ledinsky sacrifice bunted both runners ahead one base for Berndt. His safety squeeze bunt to the third baseman froze Conzelman initially. However, Sims, now playing first base, could not pick up the throw from third, which got past him for an error and allowed Conzelman to score the tying run.
Hickey, with runners at the corners and one out, took a pitch before pushing another bunt into no man's land between second and first base. Two infielders converged on the ball but no one covered first base.
"They just bunted where all of us weren't and our guys just didn't make the plays," Sims said.
Hickey reached first base safely just as Meciej crossed the plate with the winning run.
"I think that shows the resilience and what they're made of," Murray said of the rally. "At 2-1, we could have thrown it away. It was bases loaded and it didn't look good ... You could just say game over but no. This is what we've been doing since last summer."
Jacobs outhit Hononegah 11-5, led by Murray (2-for-4), Rizzuto (2-for-3) and Grant Kale (2-for-3). Peltier (4-0) earned the victory in relief.