Baseball: Putnam County ousts Harvest Christian in sectional semifinals
Since the IHSA revealed its postseason baseball seeds earlier this month, fans in Putnam and La Salle counties have eyed this coming Saturday's Class 1A Harvest Christian sectional championship game wondering if they might get Panthers-Crusaders Round 3.
Like Marquette a day earlier, Putnam County had to fight tooth-and-nail to earn its way to that awaited rematch ... and did so.
Putnam County defeated sectional host Harvest Christian 2-1 Thursday afternoon in a game delayed 19 hours by spring storms, riding the right arm of pitcher Troy Petty and an opportunistic offense that made the most of its three hits.
The Panthers are scheduled to meet Marquette -- which split two regular-season thrillers with Putnam County -- for the championship Saturday back on the campus of Judson University.
"Give all the credit [for this game] to Harvest Christian. They're a heck of a ballclub," Putnam County coach Chris Newsome said. "Their kids played outstanding, and I hate that this matchup had to happen here [in the sectional semifinals] instead of down the road.
"But I am glad for our kids that we get to move on and see Round 3 against Marquette."
Thursday's semifinal didn't in the early-going seem likely to develop into a pitchers' duel between Petty and Lions starter Jared Rodriguez. Both Putnam County (27-8) and Harvest Christian (15-8) scored single runs in the first inning.
The Panthers plated their tally on Jackson McDonald's RBI double that one-hopped the fence in left, scoring Drake Smith, who'd reached on a walk.
"I was up 2-0 [in the count], and [Rodriguez] gave me a fastball and I missed it," McDonald said. "I was like, 'I can't let him throw a fastball by me again.' He got me to a full count and threw me a belt-high fastball, and [hitting it] just felt good."
The Lions had an immediate reply, however, getting one run off Petty in the home half when Gavin Duran was hit by a pitch, took second on a Sam Rohlfing single, third on a wild pitch and home on Eloy Suarez's RBI groundout.
That early success belied Harvest Christian's prospects, though. After the first inning, the Lions would not manage another run -- or another hit, for that matter -- off Petty (5 2/3 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 6 K) and PC reliever Drake Smith (1 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K), who notched the save.
"I relied a lot on my slider," said Petty, who got stronger as the game went on, recording four of his six strikeouts against the final five batters he faced. "It was really effective today, and I was able to get guys off-balance early in counts and have them guessing all the way through."
Petty's ability to forge a scoreless bottom of the third was cited as a pivotal point in the then-tied ballgame.
After Rodriguez (4 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 7 K) worked his way out of a runner-at-third/nobody-out jam in the top of the third thanks in large part to a botched suicide squeeze that led to baserunner Andrew Pyszka thrown out attempting to steal home, Petty halted the home team's loud momentum with a 1-2-3 bottom half.
Putnam County then scored what turned out to be the game-winning run in the fourth -- Austin Mattingly singling, taking second on a passed ball, moving to third on a walk and getting a free trot home when Rodriguez was called for his second balk of the day.
That 2-1 lead held up, even after Newsome chose to pull Petty at 75 pitches to preserve his ability to potentially pitch in Monday's supersectionals. That foresight may prove to be for naught, however, as Petty injured himself making a throw from third in the seventh inning and left clutching his throwing arm, his status for the remainder of the postseason up in the air.
"I've got to hand it to their No. 21 [Petty]," Harvest Christian coach Matt Ellett said. "That kid just pitched his heart out, and I hope he's OK. What a gutsy effort by that kid, because I really thought that we would get rolling today. We've been a good-hitting club all year, scoring in double digits most of our games.
"I was proud of our pitching staff holding them to two runs. If going into the game you would have told me we were going to hold them to two runs and lose, I would not have believed that. ... It was a great game."
First pitch of Saturday's sectional final is scheduled for 1 p.m.