Knoch rallies past No. 2 Freeport to claim Section 1-4A title

Thursday, May 3, 2018 | 9:54 PM

Freeport had Knoch down to its final out, with the section title in the balance.

But the Yellowjackets couldn't score the Knoch-out blow.

Class 4A No. 3 Knoch rallied from a pair of two-run deficits, scoring twice in the seventh and twice more with two outs in the ninth to beat No. 2 Freeport, 6-5, and claim the Section 1-4A championship Thursday afternoon at Freeport Community Park.

“It wasn't the prettiest game,” Knoch coach Sean O'Donnell said. “We made some mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes. But I keep telling these guys all year that we're good enough to overcome mistakes, no matter who we're playing. That's a really good team, and we battled through it. It came down to them willing it.”

In fact, it mirrored the teams' first meeting in April, when Freeport rallied from a three-run deficit by scoring five runs in the top of the seventh for a 5-3 victory.

This time, the Knights (14-1, 13-1) played spoiler as the visitors.

“They got us pretty good,” Knoch senior catcher Dylan Swarmer said. “So we knew we were down, but we believe in everybody on our team, and we knew we could come back. We had a lot of motivation for this game.”

Ethan Sloane doubled with two outs in the top of the ninth, and he scored when Swarmer reached on an error on a ground ball to shortstop. Ben McMillen added an RBI single for a two-run lead, and Knoch held off the Yellowjackets in the bottom of the ninth, even after Ben Beale's two-out homer to left.

“It's a game of inches,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said. “Same with our throws: an inch off, and it cost us. But those guys have been there all year for us. I'm still proud of those guys. I'm no less proud. That's Chapter 1, and once we finish out the regular season, we'll go to Chapter 2 in the playoffs.”

Knoch faced deficits of 2-0 and 4-2 but rallied both times thanks to an offense that had 13 hits, including five for extra bases. Andy Pipes doubled and drove in three runs, Sloane doubled twice and Alex Altmire went 3 for 5 with a triple.

Altmire led off the seventh with a triple off Freeport reliever Brodey Cowan and scored on Pipes' sacrifice fly. After Sloane flied to center, Swarmer singled and scored on Herrit's double to right-center.

“We had hit some balls hard earlier in this game, and we knew eventually they would start falling in,” Swarmer said.

Freeport (11-2, 11-2) had a chance to win in the bottom of the eighth when Jarrett Heilman and Gavin Skradski both reached on errors, putting runners on second and third with no outs. But Knoch reliever Lance Cotton — fresh off pitching Wednesday night — struck out the next two batters and then retired Sean Furlong on a fly ball to center.

“We just weren't clean enough today over the course of nine innings,” Carr said. “I think they were just a bit cleaner than us.”

Freeport starter Sean Furlong and Knoch starter Jack Bartek battled through baserunners in their six innings of work. Furlong allowed runners in all six of his innings but allowed just two runs on eight hits. Bartek gave up nine hits but stranded six runners, including a bases-loaded situation in the fifth.

Freeport took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI single by Heilman and RBI double by Skradski. Knoch tied it in the fifth on Pipes' two-run double, but the Yellowjackets retook their two-run lead in the bottom of the inning when Matt Charlton drove in Cowan with a hit and Heilman drew a bases-loaded walk.

“It's a team effort,” O'Donnell said. “All those guys pitched in today in some way, and that's how you win by one against a really good team to win the section.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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