The Gibault High School baseball team (23-11) was on cloud nine going into Tuesday’s Class 1A SIUE Super-Sectional game against Jacksonville’s Routt Catholic High School (22-5). The team was coming off of a 17-0 short-game shutout in Saturday’s sectional championship over Mt. Olive with their top pitcher, junior Zach Neff, toeing the rubber.
“Zach was sharp. It’s what we expect out of him, he’s our No. 1,” Gibault baseball coach Andy Skaer said after the game. “He was one of our top pitchers last year and we knew what we had coming into the season and he’s delivered every time out.”
Thanks to Neff and Gibault’s explosive offense, the Hawks have now made history by becoming the first team in school history to make it to the state baseball semifinals and first to make it to the state tournament since 1997.
“I just told them before the game, outside the soccer program, there have only been four teams go to state,” Skaer said, reliving his pre-game speech. “No baseball team has ever made it to the semifinals at state, so you have the ability to make the history… not just for the program, but for the whole school.”
And for Neff, the hype and level of the game made him more focused and locked in than ever.
“It was nice knowing I had control,” he said. “It was just one of those games: the bigger the game, the more fun it is.”The Hawks hold up their super-sectional trophy Tuesday, with hopes to hoist a larger trophy Saturday in the state tournament finals.
Neff said he had control and confidence after his offense backed him up in the bottom of the first with a double by senior Matt Schreder to put the Hawks on the board, 1-0. But Routt fired right back with a grounder by pitcher Nick Lonergan to put them on base in the top of the third inning. He was pushed in by a fly ball behind first that was not caught and fumbled by Schreder before the throw. Routt tied it up, 1-1.
“No. 6 (Lonergan) has some nice stuff. We didn’t square up the ball a whole lot but we put a lot of pressure on them with running the bases and things,” Skaer explained. “We just did a great job of taking what they gave us and we rolled with it.”
Gibault kept rolling in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Will Shepherd blasted a ball into right centerfield off the right fielder’s glove. A steal and a walk later, Gibault had the bases loaded — putting plenty of pressure on Routt. Senior Mitch Meyer then hit key sacrifice fly to right field, driving in a run for the Hawks. The third base runner was also thrown out on the play, ending the inning. But the damage was done.
The Hawks added to their 2-1 lead in the team’s following trip to the plate when sophomore Chandler Purcell led off with a double to left center as a result of a missed catch by Routt’s outfielder in the fifth inning. Two Gibault batters later, the Hawks took home on a wild pitch to the backstop. Gibault notched its last run of the evening off a Ryley Wallin double, resulting in the 4-1 win.
“It was just pure elation,” Skaer said while describing the final out of the game. “It’s been a fun nine years. We’ve been through some ups and we’ve been through some downs. This is definitely one of the ups. And it feels great.”
“This is kind of a shock to our program. It’s nice,” Neff said with a smile. “We are really excited. Hopefully we can bring back a big trophy.”
Gibault pursues its dream of a state baseball title this weekend at the Class 1A state tournament in Peoria. They will face Wolf Lake’s Shawnee (22-5) at noon on Friday in Peoria. Click here to view the state tournament bracket.
Click here, for photos from this contest in our Media Store.The Gibault High School baseball team poses with its super-sectional trophy, all smiles as they are state-bound for the first time since 1997.