Baseball: St. Francis loses 6-run lead, sectional semifinal
Neither Sycamore nor St. Francis had given up a postseason run entering Wednesday's Class 3A Sycamore sectional semifinal.
Both teams gave them up in bunches Wednesday, with Sycamore erasing a six-run St. Francis lead for a 9-7 win.
"We went down early, but at this point of the playoffs we don't want to go down without a fight," said Kiefer Tarnoki, who was 4 for 4 for Sycamore. "We just kept fighting, and it was pretty much just heart that kept us in it, and all the adrenaline and stuff. And it all paid off."
Sycamore will advance to face Kaneland in the title game Saturday.
St. Francis (24-12) scored the first six runs, but Sycamore (27-6) tied it at 7 in the bottom of the third. Sycamore took the lead in the bottom of the fifth when Byron Blaise doubled and Collin Severson entered as his courtesy runner.
Severson got to third on a fielder's choice and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch for Sycamore's first lead. Tarnoki tripled and scored on an error to push the lead to 9-7.
Reliever Jimmy Amptman, who entered the game in the first, got St. Francis in order in the bottom of the sixth. He ended up pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowed one unearned run while striking out seven.
"You can't be better than Jimmy was today," Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said. "For him to not think he was pitching and he comes in and five us six innings of one-run baseball. And I brought him into a mess, six runs in already, bases loaded, two outs and he gets that guys out and pitches great baseball the rest of the way."
The first six batters of the game for St. Francis all reached and scored off Sycamore starter Griffin Hallahan. After Andrew Mueller walked to start things off, the next five batters all got hits. Rocco Tenuta had a two-run double, then T.J. McMillen followed with a two-run double.
After an error, Jacob Castaldo had an RBI single, and Mueller ended the scoring with a sac fly.
Hallahan allowed six runs, five earned, in two-thirds of an inning, walking three and striking out five as St. Francis slapped five hits.
"We came out intending to do that," St. Francis coach Tom Ciombor said. "We wanted to get up early and put the pressure on them, and we did. But we just didn't follow through."
Sycamore got a run back in the bottom of the first behind a single by Tarnoki and an error. After Joey Puleo got an infield hit in the second, Tarnoki launched a two-out double, but Puleo was thrown out.
St. Francis scored on two errors in the top of the third to push the lead to 7-1, but Sycamore added six in the bottom of the third. Owen Piazza and Tommy Townsend singled to start the inning, then two walks to Ethan Storm and Conner Williar plated a run. With the bases still loaded, Kyle Hartman hit a routine fly ball to right but it was dropped and three runs scored.
Hartman scored on a single by Tarnoki to tie the game at 7.
"It only takes one base runner, and in that inning that's all it took," Tarnoki said. "One play is gold for us, we keep hitting and we never look back."
Townsend took over for Amptmann in the seventh to pick up the save, pitching around a double. Lucas Winburn, who came into play first when Townsend went in to pitch, made a diving play on what looked like a sure single to help snuff out the rally.
"They had a couple pretty good pitchers come in," Ciombor said. "We didn't make the routine plays and at the end of the day that's what cost us. ... I think if we got two guys on we had a shot. The first baseman made a [heck] of a play over here, and whoever makes the plays at the end of the day wins it."
Tarnoki had a double and a triple among his four hits as Sycamore had nine in the win. St. Francis had seven hits, five in the first inning. McMillen had a double and a single in the loss.
While Sycamore will look for a berth in the Class 3A Geneseo Supersectional with a win over Kaneland, the season comes to a close for St. Francis -- its second straight season with a regional title.
"We're really, really proud of this group," Ciombor said. "We've had 42 wins in two years and the two regional championships, it's the first time in 17 years we've gone back-to-back. So it's a hell of a group. Just very, very, very proud of them."