BLOOMINGTON - Lucas Cook was one strike away from nailing down an Area victory Sunday night in the ninth inning of the 51st annual Pantagraph All-Star Baseball Game. | Photo gallery
However, the Heyworth High School right-hander made an 0-2 pitch to the Intercity's Tim Brungard a bit too good, and the Normal Community outfielder singled home the tying run.
Two innings later, Cook got a chance for redemption - at the plate and on the mound - and he delivered to lead the Area to a 9-8, 11-inning victory before an overflow crowd at Illinois Wesleyan's Horenberger Field.
Cook's two-out, bases-loaded single in the top of the 11th snapped an 8-8 tie. He then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning to give the Area its third straight victory in the series. It was the first extra-inning contest in the game's history.
"I was just looking for anything I could make contact with," Cook said of his go-ahead single, which dropped into short center field. "I knew I could pop something over the infield. With aluminum bats, it's a lot easier. I was lucky enough to find the space between the outfielder and the infielder."
Cook finished 3 for 5 and drove in two runs. After allowing an inherited runner to score in the ninth, the Area strikeout leader blanked the Intercity the rest of the way to earn the victory and the Rory Hodgson Most Valuable Player award. He helped the Area overcome a 5-for-5 performance by Intercity shortstop Cory Phillips of Normal West.
"This is awesome," Cook said. "I had an 0-2 count on that last hitter (in the ninth) and gave up the hit. That was a crusher. But I knew we had the offense to get us a run back. I knew if we got one more run, I wouldn't make that mistake again."
Pontiac's Ryan Kelly and Streator's Chris Cravatta started the Area 11th with singles. Gary Rademaker of Hartsburg-Emden laid down a sacrifice bunt and reached on a fielder's choice to load the bases.
The bases were still loaded with two outs when Cook singled off of University High's Tyler Cook.
A single by Bloomington's Ryan Juris and a bunt single from teammate Dennis Koth put the first two runners on in the Intercity 11th. With two outs and the bases loaded, Lucas Cook retired Tyler Cook on a sharp grounder back to the mound to trim the Intercity's lead in the series to 29-22.
"He's a battler," Area coach Mark Brown of Fieldcrest said of Lucas Cook. "I know after playing against him three years in a row, he's always been a thorn in our side. That's who he is.
"I'm proud of our kids. Chances come and go in baseball. Sometimes you make the best of them and sometimes you don't. Thank God we did tonight."
The Area trailed 2-1 before scoring six runs in the fourth inning on four hits and five walks. Lucas Cook, Mahomet-Seymour's Neil Wright, LeRoy's Ryan Koerner, Bo Kinder of Clinton, Prairie Central's Alex Diller and Tri-Valley's Taylor Springer each had one RBI in the rally.
The Intercity chipped away with a three-run fifth, highlighted by Tyler Cook's RBI double. An RBI single by Fieldcrest's Jake Martin in the sixth made it 8-5, but the Intercity pulled within 8-7 with two runs in the bottom half on another Tyler Cook double.
It stayed that way until Brungard's tying hit in the ninth.
"That definitely shows what Intercity baseball is about," Phillips said of forcing extra innings after trailing 7-2. "We're not going to lay down for anybody. It's for fun, everybody getting out here and playing one last time. But the loss stings a little bit."
Phillips scored three runs, drove in one and had two doubles, one on a bunt in which he never stopped running and no one covered second for the Area.
He led the Intercity's 16-hit attack, with Brungard, Tyler Cook, Juris and Normal West's Max Sylvester adding two each. The Area had 18 hits, including three from Lucas Cook and two each from Springer and Wright.
The Area stranded 20 runners and the Intercity left 16 men on base.
"Both ways kids were making big plays," said Intercity coach Steve Clapp of Bloomington. "There were a lot of big hits and guys stepping up on the mound. We just had the bumpy fourth inning. It was kind of the difference in the game.
"Our kids have a lot of heart. They grinded and got back in the game. We wanted to win the game naturally, but this is a night about kids getting closure (on their high school careers). It's a night where everybody wins."
Intercity starting pitcher Zach Watkins of BHS was hit on the back of the right shoulder by Diller's line drive on the third out of the first inning. Watkins left the game and was followed to the mound by five Intercity pitchers.
"We don't think it got any bone," Clapp said of the line drive. "We'll monitor him the next couple of days. That kind of forced our hand. It rushed our rotation a little bit."