WATSEKA -- For the second time in two weeks, the Paxton-Buckley-Loda baseball team could not hold onto a one-run lead against Clifton Central.
Eight days after a 2-1 victory over PBL gave the Comets a share of the Sangamon Valley Conference title, the Panthers led 3-2 going into the sixth inning of Friday's IHSA Class 2A Watseka Regional semifinals against Clifton Central, but the Comets once again rallied back for a 5-3 victory.
“This is a tough one. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that’s baseball," PBL head coach Brock Niebuhr said. "They made enough plays today, and we didn’t. In win-or-go-home situations, you’ve got to find a way to make plays, and they did that today.”
With the loss, PBL finished its season with a record of 19-9.
“As we reflect, we’re going to remember the good things," Niebuhr said. “I’m just so proud of our kids and the way they kept their composure during some energized times during the game – we’ll put it that way. They kept their composure. They continued to compete. We just didn’t get it done in the end.”
Keyn Humes singled to lead off the bottom of the first inning for the third-seeded Panthers. He stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch before Mason Ecker grounded out to send Humes across home plate to give PBL a 1-0 lead.
Canyon Burrow drew a leadoff walk for sixth-seeded Clifton Central (13-7) and Trevor Meier singled to center field before Jacob Shoven flied out to center field to send Burrow home for the tying run in the top of the third inning.
Jay Lemenager and Burrow each drew a walk to start the top of the fifth inning before reaching scoring position on a Meier sacrifice bunt. Shoven flied out to center field to send Lemenager across home plate, giving the Comets a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Humes drew a leadoff walk and Ecker doubled to center field. Schrodt sent Humes home for the tying run via a sacrifice fly to center field.
Trey VanWinkle then doubled to left field with two outs to send Ecker across home plate to give PBL a 3-2 lead.
Seth Raines singled to left field with one out in the top of the sixth inning for Clifton Central before Garrett Graham doubled to center field to put runners on second and third base.
After Ecker -- who finished his start on the mound with nine strikeouts and five walks while allowing four earned runs on three hits through 5 1/3 innings -- was relieved on the mound by Ben Jarboe, Don Raines walked to load the bases before Lemenager drew another walk to send Seth Raines home for the tying run.
VanWinkle then relieved Jarboe on the mound before Burrow singled to center field to send Graham across home plate for the go-ahead run. In the next at-bat, Meier drew another bases-loaded walk to send Don Raines across home plate.
The Panthers' pitching staff finished the game allowing eight walks.
“That’s been our bugaboo all year long. We just haven’t thrown enough strikes. When you give teams that many free bases, you’re just putting yourself in tough spots," Niebuhr said. "We did that. We just couldn’t pitch ourselves out of it. Recently, we had kind of pitched ourselves into and out of a lot of jams. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that today.”
Ecker hit a leadoff single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning, but a throw from Comets catcher to the shortstop Meier caught Ecker stealing second base for the first out.
After Drake Schrodt reached base on an error, Ben Jarboe hit a hard fly ball that was caught by Don Raines in right field. Raines then threw to Tyler Pelehowski at first base to force Schrodt out, ending the game via a double play.
“That’s kind of been the epitome of our spring. It was a tough break," Niebuhr said. "The ball carried to (Clifton Central’s right fielder). Ben actually hit it too hard. (Don Raines) made a nice play, and Drake didn’t get a good read. It is what it is. That’s baseball.”
Jarboe entered the postseason hitting .347 with 32 RBIs at the plate. On the mound, he had an 0.55 ERA and a 3-0 record through 12 2/3 innings pitched.
“To see Ben’s senior year go out like that is pretty tough," Niebuhr said. "He had a tough year with some arm trouble after missing basketball season with mono and a concussion. It’s guys like that who put their heart and soul into it. You wish them nothing but the best.”
Jarboe is one of seven seniors on the team, four of which started Friday's game.
Ecker, who finished the game hiting 3-for-4, is one of the senior starters, along with Jarboe, Humes and Tommy Quinn.
“We’ve got good kids who do things the right way," Niebuhr said. "They put the work in. They put the time in. They’re going to be successful outside of baseball. That’s what you want in the end.”
Giese, who hit 2-for-3, is one of five non-senior starters.
“Our young guys are going to learn from this, and we’re going to continue to build a program," Niebuhr said.
Clifton Central 5, PBL 3
CC 001 013 0 -- 5 4 1
PBL 100 020 0 -- 3 7 0
W -- Jay Lemenager, 5 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 5 K, 4 BB. L -- Ben Jarboe, 0.0 IP, 0 H, ER, 0 K, 2 BB. S -- Nick Krueger, 2 IP, H, 0 R, 2 K, 0 BB.
Clifton Central (13-7) -- Trevor Meier 1-2, RBI. Jacob Shoven 2 RBIs. Seth Raines 1-4, R. Garrett Graham 1-2, 2B, R. Don Raines R. Jay Lemenager RBI, R, 2 BB. Canyon Borrow 1-1, RBI, R, 2 BB.
PBL (19-9) -- Keyn Humes 1-3, 2 R. Mason Ecker 3-4, 2B, RBI, R. Drake Schrodt RBI. Trey VanWinkle 1-3, 2B, RBI. Brett Giese 2-3.