It could have been a lot worse for Neuqua Valley's baseball team.
And because of that, it soon became a lot better.
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The Wildcats rallied from a 2-run deficit to beat Plainfield North 4-3 in Friday's Class 4A Neuqua Valley sectional semifinals, advancing to Saturday's title game to face Downers Grove North.
A victory would give third-seeded Neuqua Valley (28-9) its first sectional championship since finishing third in the state in 4A in 2008.
"Every game I pitch I always try to bear down and minimize the damage, and I knew that was going to be crucial," said Wildcats starting pitcher Cody Coll, who came two outs shy of a complete game. "Two runs, I know we've got a good hitting team and we could easily come back. I just wanted to focus on getting those outs."
Coll found himself in immediate trouble in the top of the first inning when 10th-seeded Plainfield North (17-15) scored twice on a Jack Butler RBI single and an error. With the bases loaded and only one out, Coll notched a pair of huge strikeouts to limit the damage to 2-0.
Neuqua Valley got a run back in the bottom of the second on Jeff Evak's run-scoring single before Plainfield North struck for another run in the fourth inning on a fielder's choice. Like the first inning, though, the Tigers couldn't extend their 3-1 lead despite having the bases loaded with one out.
"We just didn't get it done, what are you going to do?" asked Plainfield North coach John Darlington. "That's baseball. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don't."
Neuqua Valley, which stranded five runners in scoring position through four innings, came alive in the fifth. Tyler Tesmond's two-out, 2-run double to left-center field tied it at 3-3, and then Josh Piotrowski's RBI double drove in Tesmond to finally put the Wildcats ahead 4-3.
The bottom of the order rose to the occasion for Neuqua Valley. Tesmond and Matt Butler each had 2 hits while Piotrowski, the No. 9 hitter, went 3-for-3. The trio combined for 3 runs scored and 3 RBI.
Coll, meanwhile, retired seven straight at one point and struck out the leadoff hitter in the seventh. After a one-out single, however, David Gerber came in to relieve Coll and coaxed a groundout and strikeout to end the game and send the Wildcats to the sectional final.
"That game could have gone either way," said Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner. "It's a big, big emotional win for us. We'll certainly take it."
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