That’s what the East Peoria’s baseball team took into its regional semifinal game with Morton Wednesday afternoon.
Seeded ninth in its IHSA Class 3A Metamora Regional, the Raiders used momentum gained from Monday’s 7-3 win over Metamora to catapult an upset of No. 1-seeded Morton in a 6-3 win Wednesday.
“It was definitely one of the most special wins of my career,” East Peoria head coach Matt Plummer said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that far of an underdog and won. I told them in the huddle before the game ‘the pressure was on (Morton).’ None was on us. When you have a situation like that, you have to take advantage of it, and really, all you have to do is hang around.”
The Raiders did more than just compete with the Mid-Illini Conference champions.
East Peoria jumped on Morton pitcher Vinni Massaglia early and often, scoring four times in the top of the first inning.
Massaglia lasted two and two-thirds innings and allowed five earned runs before he was relieved by Trace King.
“The message was just hang around. Well, we did a little more than that,” Plummer said. “We just pounded the ball in the first, so its just a little more than just hanging around. When we put a four spot on their No.1 — for us to take a lead on a guy like that is just awesome.”
Morton responded with a run in the bottom half of the first inning, cutting the deficit to three runs. After the run, pitcher Colin Dearing settled in for the Raiders.
“The only way we were going to beat Morton was with our best,” Plummer said of Dearing. “Colin was just super solid, and I knew he would be. He had a lot of tough innings to get out of. They had the bases loaded numerous times.”
The Illinois Central College recruit battled through three scoreless innings and the Raiders tacked on another run in the third inning.
East Peoria held a comfortable 5-1 lead, until Morton’s offense came to life in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Bradley recruit Dan Bolt launched a two-run home run off Dearing to bring the Potters to within two runs, trailing 5-3.
The Raiders responded with their own long ball in the top of the seventh inning off Potters reliever Adam Christianson.
No.3 hitter Noah Hornung hit the home run to help score a key insurance run for the Raiders.
“The icing on the cake was after Bolt hit the two-run homer,” Plummer said. “(Then) Hornung hit one just as hard, it really gave us confidence going into that bottom of the seventh.”
Braden Stewart entered the game with two outs in the sixth inning for the Raiders to earn the final four outs.
Stewart finished the game without allowing a hit, and struck out three batters in a high pressure situation.
“Braden was huge,” Plummer said. “He told me in the fourth ‘I’m ready to pitch right now’ and Colin started showing signs of fatigue. Braden’s statement made it easy for me to make that call.”
With the win, East Peoria (8-23) looks to keep its postseason magic rolling in Metamora Saturday, against Mid-Illini opponent Washington at 11 a.m. for the regional championship.
With its 4-2 win Wednesday over Bloomington High School, Washington will play for a regional title for the third-straight year. The Panthers fell short each of the last two regional championships in losses to rival Metamora.
Panthers head coach Kyle Wisher said he expected to play Morton Saturday morning, but knows the game of baseball is never a guarantee.
“The thing with baseball is when teams play hot, its tough to beat them and tough to get them off their game,” Wisher said. “The team I watched wasn’t the team we played (earlier this season). They really hit the ball. They took the Massaglia kid, who was pretty dominant all year, and just kind of hit him around and they played really good defense.”
East Peoria fell short in both regular season games against Washington, but Plummer says this is a different team now.
“We know that any team can beat us because that’s been proven all year long,” Plummer said. “But at the same time, after beating the best team in the sectional — we kind of feel like we’re playing with house money. Why not us, right? It’s an exciting time for us. It’s a lot of fun to be in the position that we are.”
East Peoria plans to send pitcher Braydon Weber to the bump. Weber last start came last Friday in a 14-2 loss to Geneseo.
Washington plans to throw Ryan Shelabarger, who pitched five and two-thirds innings in a 4-1 win over the Raiders on May 9.
“We got to have good pitching, good defense, and timely hitting,” Wisher said. “If we do those three things I like our chances, but East Peoria is going to battle us. They’re going to be confident coming in, just like we should be. Anytime you get to a regional championship, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it’s going to be a battle.”