The 32nd annual Dragon Invitational on Friday will serve multiple purposes for the Pekin boys track and field team.
Besides being a red-letter day on the Dragons’ schedule and Pekin’s final home meet of the season, it will be Senior Day with 14 seniors who will be recognized at Memorial Stadium for their contributions to the team.
“Fourteen seniors. That’s the most I can remember in my 16 years with the team,” said second-year Pekin coach Eric McCann, who was an assistant coach beginning in 2003.
“Every one of our seniors is a senior leader,” McCann said. “They’re hard to come by on a track team. Seniors have a lot on their plate this time of year, and it says something that our seniors are continuing to work hard and be team leaders.”
Invitational field events will begin at 4 p.m., and running events at 5:15 p.m.
A dozen teams are in the field. On paper, it appears Pekin, Peoria Richwoods, Normal West and Springfield Lanphier should lead the way.
Also in the field are East Peoria, Limestone, Morton, Washington, Peoria Manual, Peoria Notre Dame, Geneseo and Macomb.
“Our goal as a team is a top-three finish,” McCann said.
If the Dragons are going to finish in the top three, they’ll need good performances from several athletes.
Ethan Hall has been strong in sprints for Pekin and the Dragons have a pair of top-notch distance runners in Brody Blackwell and Kolton Dunkelbarger.
Devin Tovrea and Branden Langenbahn are threats for Pekin in the 400. Tovrea, a freshman, has his sights set on breaking Cole Henderson’s school record of :48.72 in the event, set in 2013, before he graduates.
Seth Kasinger is Pekin’s best in the 800 and he’s on the Dragons’ 4x400 relay team.
Brett Lutz (shot put), Sebastian Hill (jumps), Drake Hawkins (pole vault), and Jacob Donath and Dylan Tatlock (high jump) are Pekin athletes to watch in field events.
Donath has returned to action after missing last season because of a knee injury. He competed in the state meet in high jump two years ago as a sophomore.
Logan Buck and Dawson Vest, both freshmen, are the Dragons’ best hurdlers.
Medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each event Friday. Ribbons will go to the fourth- through sixth-place finishers. The team champion and runner-up each will earn a trophy.
SOFTBALL: Giving up seven runs in the final two innings the previous day didn’t sit well with Pekin softball pitcher Lexi Juergens.
She took out her frustrations on Lincoln, throwing a one-hit shutout Wednesday in a 4-0 win for the visiting Dragons (5-9) in a non-conference game.
“Lexi was dialed in against Lincoln,” said Pekin coach Skip Penning.
So was the Pekin defense. For the first time all season, the Dragons didn’t make an error in a game.
“Riley Carroll made some nice plays at third base, and Lexi did a good job keeping Lincoln’s hitters off stride,” Penning said.
The lone Lincoln (1-12) hit was a leadoff double in the fourth inning by Kerstin Osborne. Juergens retired the next three hitters, and Osborne was stuck at second base.
Juergens struck out six and walked three.
Erin Flairty had two hits and two RBIs for the Dragons as she continued to excel in the leadoff spot in Pekin’s lineup after being moved there a few games earlier.
BASEBALL: After being blown out in its previous two games by a combined 25-3, the Pekin baseball team was challenged by Coach Larry Davis to fight back.
The Dragons did exactly that Wednesday in a 4-2 loss to Mid-Illini Conference power Morton at Harry Anderson Field.
“Without a doubt,” Davis said when asked if he got the response he wanted from his team.
“Even though we lost, the game was a huge success for us,” Davis said.
Davis knew third baseman Bryson Swift (turf toe) wasn’t going to be able to play. A half-hour before the game, he learned shortstop Skyler Coryell (knee) was sidelined.
So Davis needed to make some major lineup switches.
He put Nathan Righi at shortstop, and moved Ethan Sullivan from second base to third base and centerfielder Jon Kuethe from centerfield to second base.
Sophomore pitcher Evan Pogioli kept Pekin (6-7, 2-5) in the game as long as he could, working 6 1/3 innings against one of the top hitting teams in the area.
With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the seventh, Morton (17-9, 7-2) scored twice on an RBI triple by Nick Guerra and an RBI double by Logan Peterson off Pogioli.
The two runs Pogioli allowed in the third inning were unearned.
Bailey Antonio worked the final 2/3 of an inning for Pekin in the seventh.
The Dragons scored in the second when Righi raced home from third on a passed ball and Righi had an RBI single in the fourth.
Pekin had a chance to go ahead with two out in the bottom of the sixth when Kuethe tried to score from first base on a two-out double by Braden Lavin. Guerra’s relay throw home was just in time for Kuethe to be thrown out.
Each team had seven hits.
BOYS TENNIS: Two singles wins and a gritty defeat in doubles were highlights in the Pekin boys tennis team’s 7-2 loss Wednesday at Peoria Richwoods in a non-conference match.
Pekin’s Tony Stumphy beat Aryan Arora 6-4, 2-6, 10-5 at No. 5 singles and Peyton Swearingen beat Andrew Van Buskirk 6-2, 6-3 at No. 6 singles.
Richwoods’ Abe Saxena and Sid Saxena beat Brendan Guenther and Swearingen 6-1, 4-6, 10-5 at No. 1 doubles.
“After falling behind a set and a break, Brendan and Peyton played uphill and leveled the match before they dropped the third-set tiebreaker,” said Pekin coach Gary Garver.
Steve Stein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.