PEORIA — The Steeleville Warriors (24-6) were able to take home third place Saturday in the Class 1A baseball state finals, following their 12-6 victory over the Harvest Christian Academy Lions (24-5).
Steeleville rebounded from its 12-4 loss to Gibault Catholic in the state semifinals yesterday by scoring 12 runs of their own against Harvest Christian Academy. Against Gibault Catholic, the Warriors tallied just four runs on five hits. Steeleville had already tripled their hit count from Friday’s game in the third inning.
The Warriors combined for 11 of their runs in the third and fourth inning after getting a run early in the first inning. Five seniors go out on top for Steeleville and finish their high school careers on a high note.
A.J. Stearns notched the win for Steeleville in the final game of his senior season. Stearns went four and a third innings, allowing six runs on nine hits while striking out two.
Stearns and fellow senior Owen Gross each finished with three hits for Steeleville. Five Warriors finished with multiple hits, as freshman Zach Mevert and junior Austin Hagel matched Stearns and Gross with three hits as well.
“This season has meant a lot,” said Gross. “It was our goal at the start of the season to make a deep run and play at Dozer (Park) and we made it. It’s been so much fun and means so much to our community that has supported (us) really well. It means a lot for the program too … this is the first time we’ve been here in 26 years.”
The Warriors were able to jump on Harvest Christian Acadamy pitcher Sam Bonick right out of the gate. Steeleville combined for 10 hits in the third and fourth inning. Bonick was pulled after six runs came across to score in the third inning. That put Brock Wilken on the mound for the Lions and Steeleville jumped on him for five runs in the fourth inning to take a 12-1 lead.
Steeleville was aggressive on the base paths with four stolen bases. The Warriors would routinely get runners at first and third base and then steal second to set up hitters with two runners in scoring position.
That strategy worked out for the Warriors in the third inning when Stearns and Mevert connected on back-to-back two-run singles to put Steeleville up 7-0. Mevert attacked again in the next inning with another two-run single, finishing with four RBIs out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
“We used a DH yesterday for Mevert mainly because it was a tough matchup but he’s a good hitter and has a really good swing for a freshman,” said Steeleville coach John Sutton.
The Warriors could have tacked on more runs in the second inning after a leadoff walk by senior Bradley Mevert and a double by Stearns. Steeleville couldn’t capitalize after Mevert got caught trying to steal second, and Stearns was thrown out at third trying to stretch his double into a triple.
“I want to be aggressive on the base pads every game,” said Sutton. “That’s just poor coaching in the second inning … we probably should’ve scored four runs and not had an out. All of that just came down to being aggressive and when you’re aggressive you’re going to get thrown out, you’re going to have those things happen and that’s just the way it is.”
The Warriors looked like they were going to end the game leading by 11 runs in the fifth inning, until Harvest Christian Academy rallied for five runs to keep its chances alive.
Bonick took the loss for the Harvest Christian Academy. He went two and two-thirds innings, allowing seven runs on 10 hits, striking out two and walking one.
The Lions racked up 12 hits in the game. Matt Ellett, Jack McMahon, Wilken, and Grant Young all collected multiple hits for Harvest Christian Academy.
“I feel like yesterday’s loss took the wind out of our sails a little bit and I think we came out flat as a result of that,” said Harvest Christian Academy coach Matt Ellett. “We just didn’t have the same energy right out of the shoot, made uncharacteristic mistakes, and dug ourselves a hole.”