Illinois Lutheran, Webber advance to Class 1A state title game

By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

PEORIA - Grant Farmer said he didn’t have his best stuff Friday afternoon in the Class 1A state semifinal. Hard to believe, given the Illinois Lutheran junior right-hander yielded only two hits in six sterling innings to lead the Chargers to a 1-0 victory over Argenta-Oreana at Dozer Park.

Farmer, however, had set the bar high for himself, as he entered the Crete school’s first state semifinal appearance with a 0.25 ERA. Still, he certainly did enough to send Illinois Lutheran (26-2) to Saturday’s Class 1A state championship against Webber (23-7).

“The biggest part for me is being able to push through when I don’t have my best stuff, like today,” said Farmer. “This was not my best stuff, by a longshot. I wasn’t finishing my curveball like I usually do.”

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Farmer (10-0) struck out five and walked three in his six innings work. Then right-hander Sam Geraci, a Parkland College recruit, came in and cemented the victory by striking out two of three in the seventh to earn the save.

In six playoff games, Illinois Lutheran has allowed only five runs. For the season, the Chargers have shut out 10 opponents.

“Obviously, it was a very intense game,” said Illinois Lutheran coach Mark Kjenstad. “The type of game that not much room for error with two outstanding pitchers. … Once again, as has been the case all year, our pitching was great.”

The combined shutout negated a stellar performance by Argenta-Oreana (23-6)  starter Gage Eller (7-1), who threw a one-hitter with eight strikeouts and six walks.

Deadlocked in a scoreless tie, Illinois Lutheran finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth when pinch-hitter Jacob Heyn reached on a one-out walk. Then junior catcher Dylan Gould ripped a double to left-field that twisted up the left-fielder and one-hopped the fence. Heyn beat the errant relay throw at the plate for the game’s only run. It also marked the Chargers’ first hit of the game.

“I thought if you paid to get in, you certainly got your money’s worth,” said Argenta-Oreana coach Tom Saunches. “They hit the ball hard, one more time than us.”

Now Illinois Lutheran will look to bring home the school’s first state championship against a Webber club that outlasted New Athens, 5-4, in 10 innings.

“We set our goals pretty high at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Farmer. “There’s a lot of satisfaction of getting here, but we have to stay humble and stay hungry.”

In the other Class 1A semifinal:

Webber Township 5, New Athens 4: Behind a gutty pitching performance by starting pitcher Jordan Wheeler, Webber rallied late and outlasted New Athens in 10 innings to send Trojans to their first state championship game.

Wheeler (6-4) celebrated his 19th birthday with a 10-inning complete game in which he tossed 175 pitches, yielded nine hits and four runs. He struck out six and walked nine. The 6-foot, 220-pound Wheeler sat primarily 80-82 mph through all 175 pitches.

New Athens was seemingly cruising to the championship game, leading 4-1 heading into the seventh inning. But Webber (23-7) scored three runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 4-4, and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the bottom of the seventh to push to game to bonus panels.

“My adrenaline was what kept me going,” said Wheeler. “I’m amazed right now. This is the best feeling in my life.”

Christian Bush led Webber’s offense, going 2-for-6 with three RBI.

New Athens (19-18) was paced by DH Jimmy Kiefer, who went 2-for-2 with three walks and two RBI.

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