Baseball: Jacobs' 7th-inning comeback comes up just short
When Hononegah coach Matt Simpson walked to the mound and took the ball from starter Maddux Hibbard in the top of the seventh inning, Jacobs' side felt like celebrating.
The senior lefthander was tough on the Golden Eagles, allowing little hard contact and no hits through 6 1/3 innings, throwing 113 pitches.
Five pitches later, Jacobs celebrated for real. Pinch hitter Jack Celler drove a 2-2 pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run homer, cutting Hononegah's lead to one run and breathing life into the Golden Eagles.
"I really thought at the end we were going to do it there," right fielder Nick Gottfried said. "We've been pretty good in the seventh inning there, we've come back a lot. I had a really good feeling after Celler hit that bomb."
But two batters later, with two outs and the tying run at first, Indians center fielder Landon Seymour ran down Nathan Jonas' ball and Hononegah had a 3-2 victory for the Class 4A Dundee-Crown Baseball sectional championship on Saturday.
The Indians (29-6) advance to Monday's Kane County Cougars supersectional at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva. York (15-13-1) defeated Batavia 4-3 for the South Elgin sectional title on Saturday. Jacobs finished 19-19.
The IHSA pitch limit is 115 for playoff games and Hibbard was at 113, so he could have faced one more batter. IHSA rules allow pitchers to exceed the limit if they are below when starting against a new hitter.
"I was worried early because he had a ton of pitches and didn't know if we could get him through the fifth," Simpson said. "And he has a six-pitch inning and a 13-pitch inning and we're like, 'Let's run him out for the seventh and see what happens.' "
When Jacobs' Paulie Rudolph worked a one-out walk, Simpson brought in shortstop Jake Deleo, sent Hibbard to first and shifted the rest of his infielders.
"He had thrown the most pitches he's thrown all year, and, we wanted our reliever to have a little bit of wiggle room," Simpson said. "It was just enough wiggle room."
Simpson said it was the best game Hibbard pitched in two years. He walked five, but the closest the Eagles came to a hit was in the sixth inning when Deleo fielded a high-hop grounder and nipped Gottfried at first, then raced into left-center to haul in Christian Graves' blooper.
Hibbard did not realize he had a no-hitter until after the game.
"The two-seam was working really well, outward movement especially against righties," Hibbard said. "The slider was working really well and I pounded the outside part of the plate.
"It felt really good. At this point, you don't know when your last start might be, especially as a senior. I knew I had to come today with my best stuff and leave nothing behind."
Jacobs starter Brandon Helbig struggled in the first inning, but struck out the side in the second. The Indians took advantage of some good fortune to add a run in the third. Shortstop Caden Guenther raced for Ryan Hamilton's pop-up behind the mound and made a diving effort, but the ball rolled out when Guenther hit the ground.
Hononegah scored on a fielder's choice, a single and a sacrifice fly for what wound up as the decisive run.
Jacobs coach Jamie Murray went to Anthony Edge in relief in the fourth inning and Edge struck out five and allowed two hits in three scoreless innings.
"That was the plan," Murray said. "We had a pitch count for Anthony between 60 or 70. Helbig has been good for us. If we can keep it to three runs or less, we had Anthony and (Gavin) Feck.
"Hibbard was better than the scouting report. He was fantastic early. Just a couple of executions, they executed more than us. I'm proud of our guys for fighting, we put the winning run at the plate, down 3-0 with one out in the seventh. It's kind of the way we played all year."
Despite it being his first at-bat and Jacobs' season on the line, Celler felt good about his chance. When Deleo's 2-2 curveball did not break sharply, Celler jumped on it.
"The pitcher thinks hard," Celler said. "I have so much confidence in myself and my coaches and teammates have so much confidence in me, that it's tougher on the pitcher to get me out.
"The fence here is pretty short, so if you pull the ball you have a good chance of it getting out. It felt good. I knew we weren't out of it. We just needed a little boost and I thought that might be it, but we were just a little short."
Gage Martin grounded out to shortstop for the second out, but pinch hitter Brandon Koth singled for the Eagles' second hit, bringing up Jonas, the leadoff hitter.
Jonas hit a 1-2 pitch hard toward left-center field, but Seymour ran down the sinking ball and the Indians celebrated their second sectional title in three seasons.
"(Maddux) is a kid that we knew had it, but this is the best he's pitched in two years," Simpson said. "He was lights out today. I think it was a senior moment, 'I'm going to get this done my senior year' type of thing. He was probably throwing a little harder than he's thrown for us all year. He located better than he ever has."