GENOA – Logan Riley blasted a shot to left field to expand the Sycamore baseball team’s lead to three runs, Austin Steele was cruising, and coach Jason Cavanaugh said the team was confident.
But the Spartans pitchers struggled with their control in the sixth, Burlington Central tied things up, and the second-seeded Rockets went on to beat seventh-seeded Sycamore, 5-4, in eight innings Wednesday in a semifinal of the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Regional.
“With the way Steele was pitching at that point, I thought that would be enough,” Cavanaugh said. “It was such a big jolt getting a home run from Logan Riley in that situation.”
With two outs and courtesy runner Connor Smith on base after a Matt Cusumano walk, Riley ripped a pitch over the fence in left center, pushing Sycamore’s lead to 4-1, and Steele responded with a quick bottom of the frame in which he allowed only one runner to reach on a walk.
But in the bottom of the sixth, Steele gave up his third walk of the game, then back-to-back singles to load the bases. Cavanaugh brought in closer Zach Carlsen to escape the jam. But Carlsen gave up an infield single to Nick Matijevic, a walk to Braden Seyller and a sacrifice fly to Jake Mellinger to tie the game.
“When you have a weapon like Zach in the bullpen, you have to use it,” Cavanaugh said. “I don’t like to bring him in with the bases loaded in that situation. I was trying to coax one more inning out of Austin [Steele] to see if he could get through the last one.”
Seyller hit a one-out double in the eighth to plate Andrew Griffin, who also scored the tying run in the sixth.
Cavanaugh said he felt like the strike zone shrunk starting in the sixth. Steele had two walks before that inning, and Steele and Carlsen walked four in the final three innings.
"There was nothing called, I felt like, belt high at all," Cavanaugh said. "When our catcher comes off and tells us those pitches are strikes, then it's tough to swallow. You get on them a little bit, but you have to be a good sport about it, too. You can't set a bad example for your kids. Our motto is just play through it. But at some point you have to throw a fastball down the middle, and those are good, and they hit it."
Sycamore (13-15) opened the scoring with a fielder's choice by Gage Armstrong that scored Kevin Rink in the third. The lead grew to 2-0 in the fourth when with two outs and Jacob Cavanaugh on second, back-to-back wild pitches brought him home. Ryan Knowlton homered to deep left in the bottom of the fourth to put the Rockets (18-9) on the board for the first time.
"We always talk about not being out of anything," Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson said. "Single-elimination baseball, crazy things happen. It's not like football where you can take a knee, or basketball where you go four corners and pass the ball around the outside. You still have to get outs. As long as we have outs left, we have a chance."
Riley said he liked how the team played late in the year. His coach agreed.
"I thought we started playing better at the end of the season," Jason Cavanaugh said. "Struggling at the beginning of the year, just kind of wallowing under .500. We got it back close, so I don't know."
Up next: The Rockets will face either Genoa-Kingston or Freeport at 11 a.m. Saturday.