GALESBURG -- The Alleman Pioneers knew that nothing less than a sweep of Galesburg would do Saturday if they were to earn their first Western Big 6 Conference baseball crown in eight years.|
And even after seeing an early two-run lead evaporate as the Silver Streaks rallied for a 6-2 first-game victory, the Pioneers still could play the spoiler's role and deny the hosts their first outright conference championship in nearly two decades.
Instead, it was Galesburg scoring all of its runs in the first two innings, then fending off a middle-inning Alleman rally to nail down an 8-6 win at Jim Sundberg Field and its first Big 6 title since 1993.
"The kids executed,'' said Galesburg coach Arnie Gonzalez. "They knew what was at stake, and that Alleman's a pretty good club. We played well today, and I'm proud of all the boys.''
The Silver Streaks (22-6) finish league play with an 8-2 record, one game ahead of a Moline squad that split with United Township. Alleman (19-11) tied for third with UT at 5-5.
"I think the difference today is that we played the best team we've seen all year,'' said Alleman coach Chris Lemon. "That's not a knock on Moline, UT or Rock Island, but Galesburg won the conference for a reason.''
Now, Lemon wants his club to take its five remaining regular-season games and use them to fine-tune things before the upcoming Class 2A Mercer County Regional in Aledo, where the Pioneers are the No. 1 seed.
"You can't just turn it on the first game of the (postseason) tournament,'' he said. "Now, our total concentration has to be on our five games next week. We're playing OK, but we need to start playing winning baseball, beginning Tuesday against Rock Island.''
Toward that end, Alleman did show plenty of fight in the second game. They need it after a five-run second inning by Galesburg -- capped by a two-run Seth Morling double -- had the hosts up 8-2.
With starting pitcher Matt Schissel settling down to retire all but three of the final 17 batters he faced, RBI singles by Cody Sedlock and Ryan O'Keeffe in the top of the third closed the gap to 8-5. John Tracey belted an RBI double in the fourth inning to make it an 8-6 game.
"I'm very proud of my kids for hanging in there and making them sweat a bit,'' said Lemon. "I went out in the second to take Matt out, and I looked him in the eye and said, `Matt, it's not your day.' He looked me in the eye and said `Coach, it is my day,' and he got 11 outs in a row after that. In both games, my pitchers struggled early, but I'm proud of how they hung in there and competed.''
The Streaks scored three times off Game 1 starter Cody Sedlock to take the lead for good at 4-2, with Tanner Guss-Laird's two-run single breaking the tie and giving Galesburg's Tim Rossell all he needed to go to 8-0 (5-0 in Big 6 play).
In the second game, junior Chans Sugden followed up his 2-for-4, two-RBI opener by delivering three innings of hitless relief, striking out three to earn his second win. He retired all but one of the nine batters he faced.
"All I thought about was focusing on Chad's (catcher Chad Johnson) glove, getting it there and hitting my spots,'' said Sugden. "I knew my defense had my back, so I just had to do my thing.''
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