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By Chris Sendel
PAXTON — Visiting Gifford-Flatville and host Paxton took turns making late comebacks in an Eastern Illinois Baseball League doubleheader on Sunday.
The Gif-Flats scored twice in the top of the ninth inning of Game 1 to pull out a 4-3 win before the Swedes took Game 2 by a 3-2 count by scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh.
Despite being down for almost all of Game 1, the Gif-Flats had several opportunities to put away the Swedes early. Three different times during the course of the game the Gif-Flats had the bases loaded but were unable to capitalize on the chance to score.
“We ended up leaving 18 or 19 guys on base, so obviously there is a bit of a frustration there. But if you keep knocking on the door, it’s going to open up and you’re going to get your runs,” Gifford-Flatville manager Lindy Loschen said.
The Swedes had control for most of the game, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning and a 3-2 advantage into the ninth behind an elusive performance of starter Mike Grant. Defying typical math and logic, the right-hander walked 10 and allowed five hits in 6 1/3 innings, but he gave up just one run, helped by his seven strikeouts.
Still, the Gif-Flats wouldn’t go down easily. After Garrison Stenger reached second on a bunt and an error in the ninth inning, Eddie Bermingham’s RBI single to right field tied the game at 3-3. Later, with the bases loaded, Cole Judy’s RBI plated the eventual game-winning run. Both ninth-inning runs were scored off Paxton reliever Deven Lee, who took the loss, going 2 2/3 innings and allowing three runs, all earned on four hits.
“Bases loaded and no outs, and I just tried to stay out of a double play,” Judy said. “He threw me a fastball and I just drove it to right field. I love that situation, I want to come up with the bases loaded and no outs. I just manufacture runs, and that happened today.”
Game 2 was a role reversal. In the top of the third inning the Gif-Flats took a 1-0 lead off a solo home run by Harrison Freeland. The Swedes then tied the game on a bases loaded walk in the bottom half.
In the top of the seventh, Gifford-Flatville took plated a run off Paxton starter Craig Pinley to take a 2-1 lead. But in the bottom half, Brett Leischner came through with a clutch two-run double to give Paxton a 3-2 win. That broke a nine-game losing streak for the Swedes (9-10) and made a winner out of Pinley, who went all seven innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out three.
“I was really just looking for a pitch because I had struggled all game,” Leischner said of his final at-bat. “I thought it had a decent chance to clear the outfield, I thought it would probably go into the gap. It’s nice to finally get a ‘W’ because we’ve been on a bit of a losing streak.”
The Game 2 loss dropped Gifford-Flatville to 13-6 and was a significant one, as it fell a game behind league leaders Royal and Buckley, which both sit at 14-5. The Gif-Flats have no chance to earn a share of the EI regular-season crown because Royal receives two forfeit wins next week against Mattoon.
At 9-10, Paxton is tied with Central Illinois for the fifth spot in the EI standings. Paxton plays celler dweller Colfax this Sunday, while Central Illinois plays Gifford-Flatville. The fifth seed likely will face Watseka in the four-five matchup of the league tournament quarterfinals, which take place Aug. 4, with that winner then earning a matchup with Royal, which will receive the top seed and a first-round bye even if Buckley sweeps this weekend to tie at 16-5. The Giants own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating the Dutchmasters two out of three times this season.