BASEBALL: Coal City comes up short in pitcher’s duel with Brother Rice
CRESTWOOD — Legendary Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller once was quoted as saying, “Baseball is only a game — a game of inches and a lot of luck,” and nobody felt that more Monday night than Coal City.
In the Coalers’ game against Brother Rice at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, the Crusaders broke a 1-1 tie with two outs in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run Coalers error to hand Coal City a gut punch of a 3-1 loss.
The loss dropped the Coalers to 19-3 on the season.
Coalers ace Payton Hutchings took the bump against a Crusaders crew stocked with college talent — they have six players committed to NCAA Division I schools and 10 college commits in total — but Hutchings was arguably the most talented player on the diamond.
After a leadoff hit-by-pitch, a passed ball and a bunt single, Hutchings surrendered his lone earned run when Kendall Pettis stole second and Michael Bolton scored on the throw down.
But after that, Hutchings settled in nicely, cruising through the next four frames without allowing a hit. The Illinois commit entered the evening with an unblemished 6-0 record, and, in the eyes of coach Greg Wills, passed a big test against the Crusaders on Monday.
“He seems to pitch better in bigger situations against teams like this,” Wills said. “We’re gonna see St. Laurence; we’re gonna see Joliet Catholic. Payton needs to be Payton for us to win those games, and he’s shown he can do that.”
The Coalers evened the contest in the third, when Austin Pullara’s deep flyout to right field scored Drew Moir. The score stayed that way until heartbreak struck in the sixth inning.
After Bolton smoked a double to straight-away center field, the first solid contact any Crusader got off of Hutchings, and an intentional walk to Pettis, Benji Brokemond stepped up to the plate.
He hit a sky-high fly ball to right field, where Connor Best appeared to make his way under the ball. At the last moment, Best had to take one more step back and to his right, and the ball slid in and out of his glove, allowing the bases to clear. Brokemond was tagged out after rounding third too far and getting picked off sliding back to the base.
“They scored their first run on a first-and-third where we just didn’t make a play, and then we have another ball that just kind of drops that we should have caught, and they score two runs on that,” Wills said. “ If we make two plays, we win 1-0 and people are saying, ‘Wow, what’s Coal City doing beating Brother Rice?’
“But what a game; what a night; what a stadium. Even with the outcome, I’d do it again.”
The stadium Wills referred to, Standard Bank Stadium, is a minor league ballpark that hosts the Fronteir League’s Windy City Thunderbolts.
The Coalers originally were slated to play an Interstate Eight Conference game against Westmont, but after that contest was rained out, Wills stumbled across an email during his prep period at school that caught his eye.
“I got an email that came across where coach [Tim O’Donnell] said, ‘I had a game at Standard Bank Field; we have umpires; we just need an opponent,’ and we were incredibly interested,” Wills said. “I emailed him back; they have good guys over there and emailed us right back.”
And despite coming out on the wrong side of a nailbiter, Wills said the experience of taking on what Illinois Prep Baseball Report calls the 10th best team in the state is a beneficial one.
“If we can play games like this, it definitely makes us better,” Wills said. “I told the kids, ‘It’s definitely better than going and beating someone 14-2.’
“To lose 3-1 to one of the best teams in the state, there’s no shame in that.”
Hutchings added a double and a walk to his outstanding performance on the mound. Jack Bunton and Tyson Spencer also added hits.
The Coalers are set to host Westmont at 4:30 p.m. today.