Baseball: Aurora Christian's repeat bid denied
PEORIA -- Aurora Christian withstood some early pressure in a bid to make IHSA baseball history. But Pleasant Plains denied the Eagles that chance with a 6-3 win in the Class 2A State baseball semifinal.
Aurora Christian was trying to become the first program to win consecutive state championships in two different enrollment classifications after winning the 1A title a year ago.
"We're really blessed to get here being in 1A and then getting bumped up to 2A and still get to point we've gotten to," pitcher MJ Stavola said. "We exceeded the expectations we laid out for ourselves even if we didn't get the win today."
Aurora Christian (19-10-1) will play Rock Island Alleman in the 2A third-place game scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.
Were it not for Plains leadoff hitter Joe Lee, Stavola could have escaped the early innings unscathed despite issuing four walks in the first three innings.
"Being tied or within one run is a lot different from being down four," Aurora Christian coach Andy Zorger said. "MJ had some huge strikeouts."
Stavola finished with eight strikeouts. However, two of the left-hander's six free passes were to Lee who stole second and third each time.
Lee, who tied a state final single-game record with the four stolen bases, scored on a wild pitch in the first inning.
"He got good jumps off a lefty on a good day to turn them loose," Plains coach Dave Greer said. "If he doesn't steal, we don't get that first run. And it was important not to let that momentum switch (by not capitalizing on the leadoff walk). We knew Aurora Christian was not going to be intimidated."
Stavola tied the game in the top of the third with an RBI triple and then he scored on Sam Tickel's sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the inning, Plains thought they might be able get the big inning but had to settle for only Joel Niermann's RBI single. The Cardinals (26-11) scored four in the fourth on all five of the hits Stavola allowed in his 3 2/3 innings.
"In the third inning, we started to take a few more pitches," Greer said. "I thought he looked tired after he hit that triple and it took him a while to get back to the mound."
Aurora Christian was not able to get the big inning against Plains starter Mason Williams. The Eagles had runners aboard in every inning but were not able to score until a single run in the seventh. Pitch count, more than what Aurora Christian did in the inning, kept Williams from the complete game.
"I felt there were pitches up in the zone that we helped him out and popped up," Zorger said. "But he was locating pretty well and was able to keep us off balance with his curve ball."
Despite the loss, Aurora Christian will have the chance to finish another season with a win.
"We just have to forget about this one and come together as a team to realize it's the last game for the seniors," junior Hunter Kuntzendorf said. "That's one to make you want to come out firing and have fun."