Lone Tree came up just one play short in a 3-2 loss to Pekin in the district quarterfinals on Saturday.
The Lions scored two runs with the bases loaded in the fourth and fifth innings, and put runners in scoring position in the sixth and the seventh. But Pekin stranded six runners in scoring position over the final four innings to escape with the win.
The Lions were one play short of a victory, but coach Mike Close was happy to see his team battle.
“A week and a half ago, I don't know that we would have put together a game like this,” he said.
“We were really struggling defensively, just trying to find consistency. And that was the one thing we talked about all week —to compete, have energy, have fun, just enjoy playing the game.
“And we were just one or two hits short of probably winning that game. And that's the part that sucks, but I felt like we really competed and made them earn this game.”
The Lions had lost eight of their last ten games heading into the postseason, and allowed double-digit runs in six of those losses.
The Lions had an excellent defensive game on Saturday, and a great pitching performance from senior Adam Knock, who played with an ACL injury over the last three weeks.
“He did a great job on the mound,” Close said. “He pitched a great game and gave us a chance to win. He did great at the plate. He really gives us a lot of production when he's in, and even with a torn ACL and he's just a kid who competes and loves to play baseball.”
Knock allowed three runs on four hits and two walks over six innings and struck out six.
The Lions had no hits or walks through three innings, and just one baserunner, who was hit by a pitch.
Trailing 2-0, Matt Hemsted and Tyler Bell reached base on error to lead off the fourth inning. Will Kleckner was hit by a pitch for the second time to load the bases with no outs. Hemsted scored on a wild pitch, but Pekin senior Jackson Horras got a pair of big strikeouts to limit the damage.
Cade Shield broke up the no-hitter in the fifth inning and scored the tying run when Kleckner drew a bases-loaded walk. Bell also had a single during the inning.
“We were just trying to stick to the game plan, trying not to chase pitches or do anything real wild — having a strike zone that probably was unfavorable for both sides for most of the night,” Close said. “Just trying to stay patient. Their pitcher threw a lot of pitches. Towards the end of the game, if you start chasing things, it just helps them.”
Pekin’s Horras allowed just two runs on three hits and was effectively wild, striking out 12 while hitting Kleckner three times and Hemsted once.
Pekin regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning on a bloop single that just went over the infield, which was playing in with a runner at third base. The Panthers’ only other runs came on a first-inning 2-run homer from senior Chase Stansberry, which hit the top of the right field fence just inches beyond the glove of Hunter Hain.
Knock singled in the sixth inning and got into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt from Hain. Bell doubled to deep center field with two outs in the seventh and finished 2-for-4 at the plate in his final game.
Lone Tree finishes the season at 7-14, while Pekin (10-12) advances to face No. 3 New London (25-1).
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