Hello Elite Eight!

By TERRY GREENE
Mahomet Citizen sportswriter

Just when it looked like the Mahomet-Seymour Junior High baseball team’s “Dream Season” was going to end in abrupt and disappointing fashion, the battling Bulldogs pulled another rabbit out of their hat. This time, it was a thrilling come-from-behind 5-3 sectional win over Danville South View on September 22 that earned M-S a trip to the IESA state finals in East Peoria. The Bulldogs (21-0) will play Mt. Zion (16-5) at 2:30 p.m. at the Eastside Sports Centre Complex in East Peoria.

The Bulldogs jumped on South View left-hander Noah Nelson in the top of the first when Brooks Coetze drew a lead-off walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and came around to score on a base hit by Kyle Schum. M-S threatened for more but Nelson fanned Ryan Harrison and Noah Steepleton with runners at first and third to end the rally.

The Spartans quickly responded. Designated as the home team although the game was played in Mahomet, South View put together an infield fly ball that was lost in the sun, a stolen base, and a clean single off of M-S southpaw Isaac Bushue to tie the game 1-1.

In the bottom of the third, South View took advantage of three Bulldog errors and a solid single to center field to jump ahead 3-1. With two runners on board and down by two runs, coach Nic DiFilippo went to the mound and called his entire team in for a brief visit. “I told the guys to remember what got us here, that I believed in them, and knew they would find a way,” he said “Some of the players were a little upset. I just reminded them to stay positive and remember they don’t have to make an amazing play, just to make the play when it comes to them and don’t force any plays.” On cue, Bushue quelled the Spartan uprising with a strike out and softly hit fly ball to second base.

With the hard-throwing Nelson mowing down the M-S hitters, a comeback seemed unlikely and an end to the unbeaten season appeared to be a growing possibility. But just when Nelson looked as if he was in complete command, his pin-point control abandoned him.

In the top of the fifth inning, Bradley Hamilton reached on a lead-off walk. Cory Noe followed, and Nelson issued another pass. With the tying run at first, Austin Biehl went down on strikes. But Coetze coaxed the third base-on-balls of the inning from Nelson to load the sacks for Nick Herrmann. Herrman responded with a sacrifice fly ball to center field to score Hamilton, making it 3-2 South View. Bushue followed with an infield fly ball to the left side of the infield, but the Spartan third baseman failed to make the catch, allowing Noe to score the tying run.

With a trip to the state tournament on the line, Schum scorched an opposite field triple down the right field line to clear the bases and give the Bulldogs their 5-3 lead. According to DiFilippo, it wasn’t a surprise that Schum delivered the key hit. “Kyle did a great job going the other way with that pitch. He has been clutch for us all year,” he said. “I’m very proud of how he has stepped up this year and been a leader for us.”

The Spartans would put two runners on board in the bottom of the fifth inning, as well as having the tying run at the plate in the sixth and seventh innings, but Bushue was able to pitch around a combination of errors and base hits to keep South View off the score board and secure the ticket to East Peoria. The defensive gem of the day was made by Noe in the bottom of the sixth inning when the shortstop ranged far to his right with two outs and make a diving catch of a looping line drive down the left line that would have cut the Bulldog lead to one run.

In going the distance, Bushue allowed five hits, struck out eight, and walked three. Nelson allowed only four hits, while striking out eight and walking four.

Joining M-S and Mt. Zion in the state finals are Minooka (15-5), Morton (22-0), Chatham-Glenwood (16-3), Normal Parkside (14-5), Shorewood Troy (14-5), and Frankfort Summit Hill (11-8). If the Bulldogs win on Friday they would advance to the semifinals on Saturday, September 29, and play the winner of the Shorewood Troy/Frankfort Summit Hill game at 10:00 a.m. The third place game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on September 29 with the state championship game to follow.

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