Baseball: Kaneland wins wild regional final over Benet
Kaneland senior Dylan Conklin has competed in a plethora of baseball games throughout his young career and has encountered a number of strange and different situations the game always seems to provide.
But nothing like this.
What Conklin experienced Monday afternoon in the top of the eighth inning at the Class 3A Kaneland regional championship against Benet made the Knights' star know it was surely his strangest by a long shot. No. 3 seed Kaneland outlasted No. 2 seeded Benet 9-7 in shocking fashion throughout a wild extra inning affair that took eight innings to complete.
"It was a crazy game and to be part of the craziest play I've ever been involved with in my life was incredible," Conklin said.
With the game tied 6-6 with nobody on and two out in the Kaneland eighth, Cole Pugh singled off Benet relief pitcher Max Babich and went to second base after Alex Panico, who had three hits, stroked a single to right.
That's when the baseball lunacy ensued which ensured the Knights' sixth regional championship in program history with Conklin front and center.
Conklin bounced what seemed to be a sure out to end the inning -- but it was misplayed by the Redwings' third baseman and the ball skirted into left field. Pugh, running on the play, headed for the plate for the go-ahead run when the Benet left fielder's throw sailed over the head of catcher Tyler Dean as Pugh scored.
Meanwhile, Panico was hustling from first and scored on the overthrow when Dean's toss to Babich covering at the plate nailed the home plate umpire in the head and bounced off, sending him to the ground allowing Panico to score with the play still alive.
There, Conklin scampered home from where he started to give the Knights a 9-6 lead after three errors on one play and a sequence of events that more than likely can never be duplicated in Kaneland baseball lore.
"I knew when I hit the ball I had to move fast and when I saw the ball go into the outfield I was gonna go to second base," Conklin said. "Then all the chaos started and I never ran faster to home in my life. I didn't know the ball hit the umpire and I just kept running and scored after my bad at-bat on the infield turned into something so special. "Baseball is a crazy game sometimes and it was today for us in a great way."
Conklin also was the winning pitcher for the Knights, throwing four innings of relief of starter Luke Wituk and Johnny Spallasso. Conklin recorded the last three outs in the bottom of the eighth inning after his improbable at-bat a half inning earlier.
"In my playing career, my coaching career, my everything baseball career that's easily the wackiest baseball play I've ever seen," Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. "I'm so happy to have been a part of it and our guys battled hard to get to that point against a very good Benet team. This is a win we surely never will forget."
The Redwings (17-14) took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first after an RBI at-bat from Jackson Bayer. But the Knights countered with three runs in the top of the second to go ahead 3-1 on run-scoring singles by Gabe Gooch and Panico.
Collin Laughlin's RBI single for Benet in the bottom of the inning closed the gap to 3-2 before Kaneland added two unearned runs in the top of the third to go in front 5-2.
The Redwings would add a single unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to cut their deficit to 5-3 before two more trotted home in the last half of the fifth on RBI by Peter Messina and Cole Rosenthal to tie things up at 5-5.
Kaneland would up the ante and go ahead 6-5 in the top of the seventh on Spallasso's RBI double that plated Conklin.
But Benet scored an unearned run off Conklin in the bottom of the seventh as Messina reached on an error and scored on Dean's double to send the game to extra innings.