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Steeleville falls in 25th District Senior Legion finale

  • Pictured are Steeleville's players accepting the second place trophy from 25th District Chairman Butch Ogle on Thursday at SIU's Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium.

    Pictured are Steeleville's players accepting the second place trophy from 25th District Chairman Butch Ogle on Thursday at SIU's Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

By Pete Spitler
updated: 7/14/2017 10:30 AM

CARBONDALE -- The fifth inning was the killer once again for Steeleville Post 480 at SIU's Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium.

A day after watching a six-run lead disappear in a 7-6 loss to Herrin Post 645 in the first game of the American Senior Legion 25th District Tournament championship, Steeleville saw a 4-2 lead turn into a 5-4 deficit and later a 10-5 loss in the tournament finale on Thursday.

Herrin scored seven runs - five with two outs - in the fifth in the first game and three in the tournament finale.

"I tell you what, that fifth inning is a curse for anybody who plays (Herrin)," said Steeleville coach Bill Grafton. "They've got confidence. They didn't just fold up and die every time.

"We had them down both times and they stayed in there and kept battling and battling."

Herrin coach Jeff Hartline was also asked what was key about the fifth inning.

"The extra gear comes from just focusing on the little things they learned when they were kids," he said. "I've got a great group of parents who don't pressure me, I don't get those phone calls about little Jimmy not playing, I just don't have that.

"And to have that kind of group, with this kind of kids, you can put something together really nice."

Herrin (14-3) won its third district title in a row with the victory and will make its fourth straight trip to the 5th Division tournament in Highland on Monday, where it will face Newton Post 20 at 3 p.m.

Steeleville, which clinched a spot in the division tournament with a semifinal win over Carterville on July 11, will play at noon against a team to be determined from the 22nd District.

"To be successful at division, you cannot make the little mistakes that we've made in a couple of games," Hartline said. "Because the teams we go up against up there, a couple of them will pull from towns of 100,000 people or more.

"We don't pull from that."

Unlike the game before, it was Steeleville that had to rally early after Herrin took a 2-0 lead on a two-run single by Dillan Chamness in the top of the first. Post 480 responded in its half of the frame by getting two runs on RBI singles from Andrew Grafton and Hunter Lodge.

An infield single by R.J. Smith gave Steeleville a 3-2 advantage in the second and Post 480 increased it to 4-2 on a single by John Woods, which deflected off Herrin pitcher Maclane Parks's glove, in the third.

Steeleville (15-7) seemed to be in the driver's seat for the next couple of innings as starter Owen Gross induced 11 of the next 12 outs after Herrin scored its two runs in the first.

But once again, Steeleville's luck ran out in the fifth. Gross gave up three straight one-out singles to bring one run across the plate, and Chamness grounded into a 6-3 putout that brought Herrin's fourth run home.

The next batter, Dalton Bush, hit a run-scoring single to left field that restored Herrin's lead at 5-4.

"I told (Gross) before the game even started, 'They are a very good-hitting team, they're going to take a lot of close pitches that a lot of other teams will be swinging at,'" Grafton said.

"'Don't get upset when you don't get that call because they don't swing at that pitch.'"

Herrin's momentum continued in the sixth. Trenton Stucker led off with a double and Gross walked Will Bouse to put two runners on.

That was all for Gross, who was replaced by Steeleville's closer in Chester High School alumnus Luke Hartman. Hartman allowed a walk to Steven Anderson to load the bases.

After a Gabe Schimpf single increased Herrin's lead to 6-4, tournament MVP Jacob Hartline cleared the bases with a three-run triple.

Chamness was next and brought Hartline home with a sacrifice fly to right field for a 10-4 lead. Steeleville pushed across a run in the bottom of the sixth, but could not recapture the game's momentum.

"I've got a nephew here," Hartline said. "I've got two sons here - one that's not playing this summer because he's working on basketball and football - but knowing what we, as parents, as a town, as a group, have put into these young men to help them along and not discourage them and overkill them with baseball, that's probably the most rewarding part."