Finishing flat: Gifford-Flatville allows nine runs across final three innings, falls in E.I. League Tournament

GIFFORD —  After finding itself in a 4-1 hole in the third inning of Sunday’s Eastern Illinois Tournament game against the Champaign Dream, the Gifford-Flatville baseball team clawed its way back.

The Giflats’ third- and fourth-inning surges put it ahead 7-4, but starting pitcher Austin Tabeling allowed seven runs across the final three innings, and Champaign ran away late with a 14-8 victory to advance to next weekend’s championship series in Buckley.

“Our guys really did put up a good fight, but hats off to the Dream,” Giflats centerfielder Mike Plecki said. “They played really well and hit the ball really well. We threw out our guy, pitcher of the year, and they’ve got a lot of really good hitters in the whole lineup. And they just kept mashing the ball.

“We were just a little overpowered. It’s a very talented team, and when they play well they’re very tough to beat.”

It was an uncharacteristic outing from Tabeling, who allowed 11 runs across eight innings and was pulled in the ninth after wearing out and giving up three runs.

Named the E.I. League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher last Monday, Tabeling was hoping for a better outing after beating the Dream twice this summer, including a victory July 23.

“I played at Parkland against a little more than half their roster. I’ve been pitching against those guys for 10 years or longer,” Tabeling said. “Third time facing them this summer. If I had made a couple more pitches, things might’ve been different, but they’ve got a lot of good hitters. When you leave the ball in the middle of the plate a little bit too much, they’ll hit it around."

Tabeling does not throw very hard, just 81 or 82 miles an hour by his estimation, but he uses craftiness as his No. 1 weapon. He throws a sinker, knuckle-curve and changeup, but after seeing him twice this summer, Champaign’s hitters were most likely used to seeing his repertoire.

“They see it out of the hand very well, and they were very aggressive on pitches. They didn’t do that the first two times I faced them,” Tabeling said. “Especially early in the game, I tried to sneak a changeup first pitch for a strike, but they saw it out of the hand, and they’d hit it.

“We competed pretty well in the middle innings, and then towards the end I just started running out of gas and couldn’t blow the fastball by anybody. From there, I had to start getting a little crafty. Had some success and then they started catching on. It’s baseball. It happens.”

Plecki was supportive of his teammate, whom he had seen dominate most hitters throughout the summer.

“I think Austin had it (Sunday). I just think their hitters hit really well,” Plecki said. “Obviously, it wasn’t Austin’s best outing out there, but he’s always a kid who’s going to put up a good fight. I think they’ve got some good hitters that if they’re on, they’re tough to get out.”

Down early

Out of the gate, Tabeling made some early mistakes, allowing a pair of runs to score on an RBI triple and RBI double for a 2-0 Dream lead. Plecki’s sliding catch in center field ended the inning and minimized the damage.

In the second frame, Gifford-Flatville capitalized on a wild hop off the bat of Ryne Bundy. What should have been a single turned into a triple when the ball careened off a rough spot in the right field grass and rolled nearly all the way to the fence. Josh Oliveras then drove Bundy in on an RBI single.  

Champaign tallied another pair of runs in the third for a 4-1 lead.

Battling back

In the bottom half of the third, a bunt single, another reaching on a bunt in which the pitcher slipped and another reaching on an error loaded the bases.

Bundy’s bases-loaded walk, Oliveras’ RBI single up the middle that bounced off the back of the pitcher’s mound and Tabeling’s opposite-field two-RBI single put the Giflats ahead 5-4.

In the fourth, Mason Joop’s double and Plecki’s hit-by-pitch gave way to Max Nelson’s sacrifice bunt.

With runners on second and third, Chris Deaville sent a hard-hit ground ball up the middle, and the Giflats were the benefactors of another wicked hop. The ball slammed into the Champaign shortstop’s face, allowing two runs to score.

Dan Plecki’s sacrifice fly gave Gifford-Flatville a 7-4 lead. Deaville was thrown out at home on a Bundy double to right-center field.

Offensive explosion

The Dream added a run in the fifth, and in the seventh is when things turned further south for Tabeling.

After a strikeout to open the inning, back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases. Tabeling fired another strikeout, but the next hitter rocked a bases-clearing double to right-center for an 8-7 lead.

The Giflats threatened in the bottom half. A single each from Dan Plecki, Bundy and Tabeling loaded the bases, but Charlie Rafferty struck out and Joop grounded out.

In the eighth, Mike Plecki walked, and Deaville was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second.

With Dan Plecki at bat with one out, a pitch went into the dirt and a couple feet away from the Dream’s catcher.

Mike Plecki hesitated and found himself in no-man’s land between second and third. He was thrown out sliding into third, and one pitch later Dan Plecki struck out to end the threat.

Tableing attempted to finish the game out with what would have been his fourth complete game of the season, but he was clearly fatigued.

After allowing a stand-up triple, Tabeling gave up a no-doubt two-run homer and a double to the next hitter.

Deaville came in to pitch and allowed three runs (with one run being charged to Tabeling) to give Champaign a 14-7 edge.

The runs scored on a pair of singles, a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch, turning a tight game into an easy victory for Champaign.

Oliveras hit a stand-up triple, and Tabeling reached on an error, allowing a run to score.

With runners on second and third, back-to-back outs ended the game.

Rough start, great finish

The Giflats began the season 4-9 before finishing 7-1 for an 11-10 record and No. 2 seed in the E.I. League Tournament.

“We had a rough start to the summer,” Mike Plecki said. “We were playing well at the beginning of the summer and just kept losing a lot of close games. We knew we had it, and we were finally piecing it together. The offense got going a little more towards the second half of the season, and we went on a big run there and got the two seed. But we just weren’t able to take advantage of it and go on to the championship game.”

The Giflats played with just nine players on Sunday, which was par for the course for much of the season.

“That’s actually how we kind of” played the whole season, Mike Plecki said. “When we went on that little run there, we pretty much had 11 or 10 guys, sometimes only nine, but we had the right guys. We had the right guys — all good guys and really big competitors.”

At the E.I. League Jamboree July 30, the Giflats only had eight players. After calling people they knew and having no luck filling the void, they picked a guy out of the crowd who hadn’t played competitive baseball in four or five years. He had pitched for Royal against Paxton in the previous game, and he wound up getting three hits for the Giflats.

“(This year) was a blast, honestly,” Tabeling said. “We played short-handed a lot. We didn’t think we’d do that early in the year. At the beginning of the season, we had 14 or 15 guys show up every game. I think the past four or five weekends, we had nine or 10.

“Hopefully, next year we can recruit some more guys and get a fuller roster. If we can get a couple more college quality players out here who can play corner outfield and maybe DH, maybe it’s a different game. It’s hard to tell.”

Despite the tough loss to end the season, Tabeling was happy with how the year turned out.

“Overall, definitely a good summer. I had a lot of fun. I’m not playing in college anymore, but I’ll hopefully be out here pitching for Gifford until my arm falls off,” Tabeling said. “Overall, great summer. Probably one of the better summers of my life to date.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11.

Categories (4):Prep Sports, Baseball, Misc., Sports

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