PAXTON -- Two days after clinching a share of the Sangamon Valley Conference championship, the Paxton-Buckley-Loda baseball team was three outs away from claiming the title outright for the fifth straight year.
The Panthers led 2-1 going into the seventh and final inning of Thursday's game against Clifton Central, but the Comets rallied back to win 3-2, thereby clinching an SVC title share of their own.
“We just had a couple of tough breaks in the top of the seventh inning," PBL head coach Brock Niebuhr said. "It was a tough loss, but something we can learn from and move forward.”
Canyon Burrow led off the top of the seventh inning for Clifton Central (12-6, 10-2 SVC) by hitting a ground ball and reaching base on an erroneous throw to first base by PBL's starting pitcher, Tommy Quinn.
“The pitcher didn’t get a great grip on it, and we don’t get that out," Niebuhr said.
Quinn finished his outing striking out 13 batters and walking two while allowing two runs -- one earned -- on four hits. After his error, he was relieved on the mound by Austin Gooden.
“It was a pitcher’s duel," Niebuhr said. “Tommy was really good. He’s been really good for us all year. He got ahead, mixed in his off-speed stuff. He was outstanding. Unfortunately, we just didn’t put enough runs up to support him.”
After Trevor Meier walked, Jacob Shoven took advantage of a wet field and reached base via a bunt single to load the bases.
In the next at-bat, Tyler Pelehowski hit a line drive that went into, and then bounced out of, the glove of a leaping effort by PBL shortstop Gavin Coplea. Burrow scored the tying run on Pelehowski's line drive.
“(Gavin) almost made a great play," Niebuhr said. "Then, who knows how things could have ended.”
Seth Raines sent Meier home for what would be the game-winning run via a sacrifice fly ball to center field. After Shoven was caught stealing third base via a throw from PBL catcher Dalton Busboom to third baseman Ben Jarboe, Garrett Graham drew a walk, but Luke Balthazor grounded out to leave two runners stranded.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Keyn Humes struck out looking and Mason Ecker grounded out before Drake Schrodt drew a walk.
Following Schrodt's base-on-balls, Jacob Shoven was relieved on the mound by Nick Krueger. Clifton Central catcher Seth Raines caught Schrodt stealing second base via a throw to shortstop Trevor Meier for the final out.
Shoven finished his outing as the Comets' starting pitcher striking out eight batters and walking four while allowing two earned runs on five hits through 6 2/3 innings en route to earning the win. Krueger was credited with a save.
“I’ve got to give (Shoven) credit," Niebuhr said. "He was really good, especially once he got his breaking ball over for a strike. He was tough to hit.”
Shoven singled to send Krueger home with two outs in the top of the fifth inning to give Clifton Central a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers (18-7, 10-2) took the lead at 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Gavin Coplea singled to left field to lead off before scoring the tying run on a Keyn Humes double to center field. After advancing to third base on a wild pitch, Humes crossed home plate on a Mason Ecker sacrifice fly to left field.
Schrodt doubled to center field in the next at-bat and advanced to third base on a wild pitch, but Ben jarboe and Trey VanWinkle each struck out to end the inning.
Ecker walked with one out in the first inning and stole second base, but Schrodt and Jarboe each grounded out.
In the top of the second inning, Graham and Balthazor each singled, but Krueger and Burrow each struck out and Jay Lemenager was called out on a foul tip, leaving runners stranded on second and third base.
Quinn singled with one out in the second inning, but Busboom grounded into a double play.
Tanner Coe was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the third inning and Ecker and Schrodt walked with two outs to load the bases, but Jarboe popped out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Coe singled to left field with two outs and Hunter Anderson -- who ran as a pinch runner -- advanced to second base on a wild pitch, but Coplea struck out.
“These were tough conditions to hit in," Niebuhr said, "but we’ve still got to do a better job of putting together some more competitive at-bats, and in some situations, just finding a way to get it done and make things happen.”
The Panthers will face Herscher 9:30 a.m. Saturday at home in their regular-season finale before facing Clifton Central in the semifinals of the IHSA Class 2A Watseka Regional at 4:30 p.m. next Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to it," Niebuhr said. "Today was a tough loss, but I still think we’re playing pretty good baseball, and we’re excited about what we can do.”
Clifton Central 3, PBL 2
CC 000 010 2 -- 3 6 2
PBL 000 020 0 -- 2 5 2
W -- Jacob Shoven, 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 4 BB. L -- Austin Gooden, IP, 2 H, ER, 0 K, 2 BB. S -- Nick Krueger, 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 K, 0 BB.
Clifton Central (12-6, 10-2) -- Trevor Meier, R, 2 BB. Jacob Shoven 2-3, RBI. Tyler Pelehowski 1-4, RBI. Seth Raines 1-3, RBI. Garrett Graham 1-3. Luke Balthazor 1-4. Nick Krueger R. Canyon Burrow R.
PBL (18-7, 10-2) -- Keyn Humes 1-4, 2B, RBI, R. Mason Ecker RBI, 2 BB. Drake Schrodt 1-2, 2B, 2 BB. Tommy Quinn 1-3. Tanner Coe 1-2. Gavin Coplea 1-3, R.