For the fifth straight year, the Delavan baseball team will play for the IHSA Class 1A Regional championship.
For three consecutive years, the Panthers have been bounced in the championship game — two of those years they lost to conference rival Illini Bluffs. The last regional title came in 2012 with a win over Springfield Lutheran before losing to Griggsville in the sectional semifinal.
On Saturday, Delavan faces off with Heart of Illinois Conference champion LeRoy in the IHSA Class 1A LeRoy Regional Championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Before reaching the title game, the Panthers had to dispatch Heyworth on Thursday, doing so with a 19-2 rout of the Hornets.
Six different Panthers had two RBIs in the regional semifinal game. Teagan Teal, Sam Hodges, Charlie Hodges, Chase Birkey, Justin Sieh, Noah Jeckel and Bryce McMullin each drove in a pair of runs.
Heyworth jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Sam Hodges settled down on the mound and stalled the Hornets for the rest of the game. He pitched four of the game’s five innings striking with eight strikeouts.
Delavan capitalized on six Hornet errors and used heads-up base running to turn routine singles into extra bases.
“Guys were taking two or three bases from a single. We kind of got on a little roll. I didn’t feel super comfortable there in those first two innings,” Delavan head coach Sanish Carr said.
The Panther offense came roaring back in the third inning, plating 12 runners with six more runs coming in the fourth inning.
“We didn’t hit real well the first time through. The second time through we hit (Heyworth starter Shane Brown) pretty well,” Carr said. “They brought in two (right handers) that didn’t throw real hard and we just timed it right and started really hitting it.”
In order for the Panthers to win on Saturday, Carr said the Panthers need to limit walks and play strong defense. Delavan did not commit an error on Thursday and will need to continue its sound defense against a strong LeRoy (26-5) team.
The teams met on May 7 when LeRoy won an 11-6 battle. Neither Sam nor Charlie Hodges played in the game, the game conflicted with their brother’s graduation.
“I know they have athletes,” Carr said of LeRoy.
Jeckel will start on the bump for the Panthers in the pursuit of a sectional berth. He posted a 3-3 record on the season with 38 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA and a 38:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Carr will rely on Jeckel’s ability to pitch ahead in counts to control the LeRoy offense.
“If we don’t give them extra outs in an inning, that’s really it. I think we’ll muster up enough hits to to put runs on the board,” Carr said. “We can’t extend innings or have an error here or there. I don’t think Noah will give up walks.”
The winner advances to the Bloomington (IWU) Sectional on Wednesday to play the winner of the Tulon (Stark County) Regional.