PEORIA — Back-to-back doubles ended Murphysboro's attempt at its first victory at the IHSA state baseball tournament since 1953 on Saturday.
The Red Devils led Rockford Lutheran by two runs in the third inning, but fell 4-3 in the Class 2A third-place game at Dozer Park. Justin Mercer and Brady West drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the fifth with back-to-back doubles against reliever Nathan Baird. Mercer, who went 3-for-3 on the day, took Baird to the wall in right field when his double sailed over the head of Red Devils right fielder Clay Rendleman.
West, the Crusaders' RBI leader with 41 entering the game, followed with a drive into the left-center field gap off a full-count.
"I thought that it was just a matter of time that we'd get to 'em," Rockford Lutheran coach Neal Bertram said. "We've had that focus all year. When your top kids come through, you're definitely happy."
Murphysboro (21-14) led 3-1 in the third and came painstakingly close to blowing the game open before the Crusaders' rally. The Red Devils loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth innings, but were turned away both times. Brandon Caldwell popped out to second base and Matt Burke hit into a fielder's choice to end the fourth.
Bertram brought in Mercer, a a 5-foot-10, 195-pound lefty, to face the top of the order with the bases loaded in the fifth and two out. Mercer got Baird to hit into a fielder's choice at second base to end that threat.
"It's what we've been doing all postseason. We've had the opportunity to get the big hit. (Saturday) we just absolutely didn't get a big hit when we needed one," Murphysboro coach Andrew Winters said. "We left the bases loaded twice, in two straight innings, and weren't able to get a big hit. It's what ended up costing us in the long run."
Rockford Lutheran (27-6) captured the third-place trophy, its first in school history, after losing 4-3 to eventual 2A state champ Braidwood Reed-Custer on Friday.
Murphysboro's fourth-place trophy was its first in four trips to the state finals. The Red Devils lost its first games in 1951 and 1966, and went 1-1 in 1953.
Baird took some solace in the team's overall results. Murphysboro defeated the eventual Class 1A state champs, Goreville, in late March and sent out six seniors on a high note.
"I feel like we had the right guys up at some times, we just couldn't pull through," Baird said. "But it's just fun to be up here. No matter what happened, we knew we were going to leave with our heads held high, so it was a good weekend."
618-351-5087 / On Twitter: @THefferman
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