CAMPBELL HILL — One out from a potentially crushing loss to Black Diamond Conference West leader Trico, Goreville’s baseball team executed a major plot twist that could shape the remainder of an intriguing conference race.
Conner Johnson crushed a long two-run homer to left-center that forced extra innings on Tuesday, then capped a seven-run eighth inning by repeating the feat to give the Blackcats a 12-6 win.
“The second-craziest game I’ve been a part of at Goreville,” Blackcats coach Shawn Tripp said.
The only wilder one, according to Tripp, was his team’s state championship win in 2016 when they trailed big early and then rallied for a run-rule victory. This one might not have come with a trophy, but the suspense and hairpin turns Goreville (16-6, 4-1) took along the way might have felt like a June game in Peoria.
The first 5 2/3 innings went as well as Tripp could have wanted. Scratching out three runs against hard-throwing Pioneer ace Nick Compton, the Blackcats appeared to be in great shape. That’s because Trent Glidewell completely baffled a potent lineup, permitting just two hits and walking one while fanning 10.
“He’s the best pitcher we’ve seen this year,” Trico coach Ben Koehn said.
But Tripp had to go get Glidewell after he induced a groundout from Compton for the second out of the sixth. Pitching on three days rest, Glidewell was allotted 75 pitches by IHSA rules, and his last pitch to Compton put him at 77.
Pioneer bats immediately came to life. A walk and five straight hits resulted against two relievers. Jackson Kranawetter drilled a two-run double to the gap in right-center for a 4-3 lead, and Tyler Imhoff poked a single that cashed in Kranawetter.
Suddenly, Trico (11-6, 5-1) was three outs away from closing out an improbable win. Fresh off a Monday doubleheader sweep of Z-R-C, the Pioneers could have all but sealed a conference title.
“I loved the way we battled back,” Koehn said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The Pioneers sandwiched two outs around a walk to Landon Albright in the seventh. A wild pitch pushed Albright to second while Johnson took ball one. Ahead 2-1 in the count, Johnson got the fastball he desired.
There was little doubt from the moment ball left bat. It disappeared over the fence as Goreville players jumped on the field in joy to greet Johnson.
“I was looking for a fastball and I was able to square it up,” Johnson said. “It felt good coming off the bat. It’s a great feeling to help out your team when they need it.”
But there was still heavy lifting to be done before the Blackcats could hit in the eighth. One-out singles by Compton and Garrett Thies put the winning run in scoring position. A two-out steal of third by Compton gave Will Bramlett, whose two-out infield single scored the first Trico run in the sixth, a chance to play the hero’s role.
Instead, Albright fanned him with a 1-2 pitch. Momentum was back in the Goreville dugout, this time for good.
“I felt like we were going to win it after we got through the seventh,” Johnson said.
The denouement was comprehensive and ugly. The Pioneers provided the Blackcats with three hit batters, three walks and a pair of errors, meaning Goreville needed only three hits to roll a seven. Johnson copied his two-run homer from the previous inning, teeing off on a shin-high fastball and lacing it to left-center.
Albright earned the win after pitching the final 2 1/3 innings for the Blackcats, which will try to cap a two-game sweep of Trico on Thursday at home, weather permitting.
“That was Blackcat baseball,” Johnson said.