PEORIA — The Gibault Catholic (Waterloo) Hawks advance to the Class 1A state championship after defeating the Steeleville Warriors 12-4 on Friday.
Gibault Catholic (27-8) trailed in the second inning after Steeleville’s Jordan Wilson put the Warriors up 2-0 on a two-run home run off the left field foul pole at Dozer Park. Hawks pitcher Nick Weilbacher responded well by striking out the next two batters and then getting a Rory Lutz flyout to escape the inning.
A quick player-only meeting in the dugout refocused Gibault Catholic, as six runs came across to score in the next inning to put the Hawks up for good.
“We just talked about what (we) discussed at the beginning of the year,” said Hawks senior Austin Sweeney. “If we play our game and we come back and we just keep battling and finding our pitch at the plate and working the pitcher into deep counts, then we would end up on top and that’s exactly what we did. We knew that we were the better team and that if we played our game, not one team out there can beat us.”
No. 8 hitter Eric Schreder started off the six-run rally in the third third inning, reaching on one of two Steeleville errors in the game. Gibault Catholic’s only left-handed hitter in the batting order, Josh Papenberg, followed with a double over Austin Hagel’s head in center field to put runners at second and third. Sweeney then drove both runs in on a ground ball up the middle, as six straight batters reached base for the Hawks in the inning.
“One of the big things for our lineup is that we have guys that can produce all the way through,” said Gibault Catholic coach Andy Skaer. “In the Super-Sectional game on Monday each of our starters reached base at least two times. You look at the rally that we started with in the third inning, it started when we had eight and nine hitters.”
Gibault Catholic tacked on two runs in the fifth inning and then a bases-clearing double by Cameron Kincheloe in the sixth finished off a four-run inning to really blow open the Hawks lead.
The Hawks scored both of their runs in the fifth thanks to back-to-back walks with the bases loaded. That put an end to senior Owen Gross’ day on the mound for Steeleville. Gross threw 53 strikes and 50 balls through four and two-thirds innings, allowing eight runs and six hits with three strikeouts.
“We have been getting some freebies and we’ve been getting a lot of walks in the postseason,” said Skaer. “That’s a product of us working counts and being patient hitters as well. Those two things are big things for us that we’ve been doing to be productive throughout the lineup in the postseason.”
Steeleville (22-6) threatened with runners in scoring position in both the fourth and fifth innings. Gross cut the Warriors deficit to 6-3 after coming home to score on a wild pitch, but Weilbacher struck out the final two batters of the inning to get out of a one out, bases loaded situation.
The Warriors loaded the bases again in the fifth with zero outs, but were only able to manufacture one run. Tim Reinholz came in out of the bullpen to strike out the final two batters and put an end to the Steeleville rally.
“The momentum changing back quick after the third inning is a big difference in the ballgame,” said Steeleville coach John Sutton. “Anytime you go out and put runs up, the best thing you can do is go out and keep the other team from scoring and we just did not do that.”
Hagel led Steeleville with two hits in four at bats.
Weilbacher got the win for Gibault Catholic. The junior allowed five hits and four runs over four innings, striking out eight.
Steeleville will next play Elgin (Harvest Christian Academy) in the third-place game today at 9 a.m.
“We just need to make the routine plays and try to keep the errors to a minimum and just try not to hurt ourselves, and we’ll see what happens,” said Steeleville senior Bradley Mevert.
Gibault Catholic will take on Ottawa (Marquette) in the championship game at 11 a.m.