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  • The State Journal-Register

    Litchfield magically keeps record-setting season alive with win over SHG

    By Adrian Dater,

    29 days ago
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1hUwDj_0tOea2WX00

    PLEASANT PLAINS — The baseball pinged loudly off the aluminum bat and seemed surely ticketed for center field. With it, a tie game — if not the lead — would be forthcoming for the Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones. Fate, however, would favor the Litchfield Purple Panthers, who used a freak double-play as part of a Houdini-esque 2-1 victory over SHG to win the Class 2A Pleasant Plains Regional title game Saturday.

    The dream season for the Purple Panthers continues. Litchfield (28-7) will face Maroa-Forsyth (25-4) in the 2A Springfield Supersectional on Monday at Lincoln Land Community College’s Claude Kracik Field. The game begins at 4 p.m. The winner will advance to the state semifinals at Peoria’s Dozer Park on Friday. Maroa-Forsyth blanked Monticello 5-0 to win the Decatur Sectional on Saturday.

    Litchfield, which won just nine games a season ago, set the school record for wins with its 25th victory in the Class 2A Gillespie Regional semifinals.

    After stranding the bases loaded with nobody out in the top of the sixth in a 2-1 game, things still looked good for the Cyclones in the top of the seventh when sophomore Tye Springer stepped to the plate against Litchfield sophomore pitcher Ethan Saathoff with runners on second and third and nobody out. Springer smoked a line drive up the middle, but the ball caromed off the left wrist of Saathoff.

    The ball deflected from there into a softer line drive toward Panthers second baseman Titan Hires, who gloved it for the out on Springer and quickly threw to shortstop Matthew Bywater to double up the runner on second. It almost was a triple play, but Cyclones sophomore Drew Ward hustled back to third. That set up a matchup between Saathoff and SHG’s Thomas Lauterbach, with Saathoff getting him to hit another comebacker, only this time it was on one hop, and Saathoff underhanded the ball to first to end the game.

    More on those Purple Panthers:How Litchfield baseball went from 9-23 to a chance at school record for wins

    “I got confused and started looking for the ball, and I saw my second baseman had the ball, and I was so happy,” said Saathoff, who pitched the final two innings to save the win for his brother, senior Carson Saathoff. “I definitely owe (Hires) a dinner on me.”

    Litchfield coach Rocky Giannuzzi thanked “the baseball gods for being with us today.”

    “I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a little nervous in the sixth and seventh innings, but we found a way out of it, with a little luck, too. But that’s been our team all year, led by pitching and defense, and I think that showed today,” Giannuzzi said.

    The sophomore second baseman Hires said he was moving toward the middle of the diamond when the ball left Springer’s bat but had enough time to correct himself and grab the ball as it caromed his way for the 1-4-6 double play.

    “I knew I had to catch that one, then everybody was yelling to throw it to (second base), and we got him,” Hires said. “We had to come up with some big plays, but we got it done. We’re just going to keep going. Nobody at the beginning of the season thought we could do it, but we’re here now. If we can get No. 1, we’ve got to go for it.”

    Bywater tripled and scored on a passed ball to score the Purple Panthers’ first run, and they manufactured another to get enough support for the Saathoff brothers.

    Giannuzzi said he feels his team is capable of going even deeper in the state tournament with a pitching staff that he said, “has five guys I’d feel comfortable using.”

    Over at the SHG dugout, Cyclones coach Nick Naumovich said it came down to just too many missed opportunities, most especially in the final two innings.

    “You have to tip your hat to them. They did enough to beat us,” Naumovich said. “We had the bases loaded, nobody out, top of the sixth with our big guys up. But we just couldn’t do it. That’s baseball. We had moments this year when we couldn’t string hits together, and today was one of those days. But these kids worked hard and were fun to be around.”

    Adrian Dater is a freelance writer for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached through the sports department at sports@sj-r.com.

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