BLOOMINGTON — Regardless of what happens Saturday, University High School’s baseball team will be Corn Belt Conference champions.
The Pioneers would like to make sure they are Corn Belt Conference Tournament champions, too.
Jacob Hendren allowed four hits and struck out six to lift the Pioneers to a 3-2 semifinal victory over fifth-seeded Rantoul on Friday at Horenberger Field. That advanced regular-season winner U High into Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game against No. 3-seeded Pontiac at McGraw Park.
“We put a lot of emphasis on winning the conference (regular season) and conference tournament. Those are the first two goals,” said U High coach Jim Collins, whose team improved to 13-11. “Now we have a chance to win both.”
The league champion is determined by a combination of regular season and tournament standings, with each counting half. Even if the Pioneers lose today, they can’t be overtaken.
Hendren (5-2), a junior lefthander, overcame some sloppy fielding behind him. The Pioneers committed two of their three errors in the second inning, helping Rantoul get a run without a hit.
U High went ahead in the third thanks to two unearned runs. Andy Cochran, who reached on an error, scored on Tommy Schiller’s groundout. Jim Solberg came in on a wild pitch by Terry Deaville.
Schiller’s single drove in Cochran in the fifth to give U High a 3-1 lead. Rantoul got a run in the sixth before Hendren retired the Eagles in order in the seventh to clinch the win.
“When he goes out there we know he’s going to give us a good game,” said Collins. “He told me he was going to go seven. He went out there and made it happen. I don’t think he had his best command on the breaking ball, but he was throwing with pretty good velocity.”
Pontiac 3, Mahomet-Seymour 0: A two-run error with two outs in the bottom of the fourth broke open a pitcher’s duel between lefthanders Caleb Leach of Pontiac and Mahomet-Seymour’s Jason Ziegler and helped the Indians into the championship game.
Leach (5-2) struck out 10 while allowing three hits and four walks. Ziegler (3-5) fanned 11, walked one and gave up eight hits.
“Earlier today (against Prairie Central) I rolled my ankle running the bases,” said Leach, a junior. “So I had to tape that up and fight through the ankle pain. He (Ziegler) is a good pitcher. We always have good battles.”
Pontiac (14-9) got four hits from Taylor Morgan. Adam Casson drove in an insurance run in the fifth. That was all Leach needed. He struck out five of the last six batters he faced.
“He was a little wild the first inning or two, but he made adjustments,” said Pontiac coach Stephen Kraft. “That’s what good pitchers do.”
Ziegler was 11-1 last season, but Mahomet-Seymour coach Nic DiFilippo said the inability of the Bulldogs (14-8) to get a clutch hit is becoming a habit.
“We had probably the two best pitchers in the area going, by far,” said DiFilippo, whose seventh-seeded team meets Rantoul in the third-place game at 4 p.m. today. “We made a mistake and they didn’t. That’s it.”
Prairie Central 8, Central Catholic 6: Mitch Wessels’ three-run double in the fifth broke a 5-all tie and carried Prairie Central (13-9) past Central Catholic (16-9) in a consolation bracket game.
Marcus Bachtold (4-1) pitched the first six innings for the Hawks before his older brother, Luke, got the save.
Brad Moody and Wessels each had two hits for Prairie Central, while Mitch Gulliford contributed two RBIs.
Pontiac 9, Prairie Central 1: Adam Casson (4-0) pitched five strong innings as the Indians jumped on top early and cruised to a quarterfinal victory at McGraw Park.
Rantoul 11, Olympia 2: The Eagles pounded out 18 hits in beating fourth-seeded Olympia in a quarterfinal game at Horenberger Field. Doug Springer (1-3) suffered the loss for the Spartans.
Olympia 8, Eureka 6: Olympia (11-16) rallied with three runs in the sixth to make a winner of Zach Schopp (4-2) in a consolation bracket game.