PAXTON — The Paxton Swedes had a chance to do more than just play the role of spoiler in their Eastern Illinois Baseball League doubleheader on Sunday.
While the Gifford-Flatville Giflats had a chance to clinch at least a share of the EI League's regular-season title, the Swedes were looking to keep their chances of a No. 3 seed in the league's tournament.
"We're trying to get to the third spot for the tournament," said Colin Sullivan, Paxton's game-two starting pitcher.
The Swedes went into Sunday's twinbill trailing the Buckley Dutchmasters by two games. They left Sunday with the same deficit thanks to a 4-2 win in game two over the Giflats, coupled with the Dutchmasters' doubleheader split with the Royal Giants that same Sunday.
"We needed that," Swedes player/manager Mark Prina said. "We've been in a lot of games, and we finally got to win against probably the best team in the league. It gives us a little bit of momentum. It kind of picked up our spirits a little bit knowing that we can win games."
"It feels good. I'm glad we at least stole one today," Sullivan added. "It was really good for our team. We needed that."
The Swedes will get a chance to further cut into that deficit next Sunday as they travel to Buckley to face the Dutchmasters in a 1 p.m. twinbill.
"We needed a split to have a chance to get to that third slot," Prina said. "We did that, and we'll see what happens next week. It's going to be a big weekend next weekend. We're in a dogfight to try to get to that third spot. We haven't been in this situation in a few years, so it's kind of nice to be playing for something here at the end. We'll go up there and compete with them. Hopefully, it'll be a good crowd and a good day to play. I'm looking forward to it."
The Giflats, meanwhile, went into, and left, Sunday's doubleheader with a two-game lead over the Giants for the No. 1 seed. They will host Game Seven next Sunday.
"We'll see how next weekend plays out," Giflats player/manager Dan Plecki said.
The EI League Jamboree will be played July 29, with the Giflats and Giants playing each other in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 game.
"We would like to be up a couple of games," Plecki said. "Royal's a good ball club, so if we don't take care of business against some of the other teams, then we leave the door open for them to take the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and we'd like to be that No. 1 seed."
Sullivan pitched a complete game for the Swedes in game two. According to Prina, that was the plan due to a short-handed pitching staff as Jake Hensgen, who pitched 12 innings of relief for Paxton prior to Sunday, made his first start on the mound in game one so Sullivan could be saved for the seven-inning game two.
"It worked out for us today," Prina said.
The Giflats started the game by gaining a 2-0 lead as Mike Plecki led off the first inning before advancing to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Kaleb Denault and crossing home plate on an RBI triple to right field by Storm Joop. After Howard Fisher drew a walk, Cade Sestak sent Joop home with an RBI single to left field.
Following the first inning, however, Sullivan shut out the Giflats. He finished his outing with three strikeouts while yielding five hits and four walks.
"I think we played defense pretty well, and I finally settled in after that first inning. They're some really good hitters," Sullivan said. "They're a good ball club."
Prina led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk and Zak Hartlieb hit an infield single before Noah Darr hit into a double play. With Prina still on third base, however, Hunter Phelps sent him home with an RBI single to left field.
The Swedes took a 3-2 lead with two runs in the bottom of the third inning.
Mark Miller walked before Sullivan hit an infield single and Cam Robinson reached base on an error that sent Miller across home plate for the game-tying run.
Prina then sent Sullivan home for the go-ahead run with a sacrifice bunt.
"We got timely hitting and took advantage of a copule of their mistakes and finally came out on the right side," Prina said.
In the bottom of the third inning, Phelps singled to right field with one out before advancing to second base on a Tanner Regez groundout, moving to third on a wild pitch and crossing home plate on another wild pitch to extend Paxton's lead to 4-2.
"We gave up more runs than we would have liked to, especially in that game two," Dan Plecki said. "We made some crucial errors at the beginning and just never made our way back."
Meanwhile, Sullivan retired six of the Giflats' seven plate appearances through the second and third innings. In the top of the fourth inning, Gifford-Flatville's Josh Oliveras singled and Dan Plecki drew a walk to put runners on first and second base, but Sullivan struck out Matt Banaitis and Mike Plecki grounded out to leave the runners stranded.
After Kaleb Denault hit a leadoff single for the Giflats (14-4) in the fifth inning, Joop popped up to Tanner Regez in foul territory before Marty Mennenga flied out to Darr in center field and Fisher flied out.
Sestak and Oliveras each flied out to start the sixth inning. After Dan Plecki reached first base on an error, Banaitis flied out to Miller in right field.
"Their pitcher, to his credit, kept us to two runs, and that's what he needed to do to win the game," Dan Plecki said. "I tip my cap to Paxton. In game two, their pitcher shut us down, and they made the plays behind him."
Meanwhile, Paxton (7-11) had two chances to add to its lead.
Prina singled and Hartlieb drew a walk to start the bottom of the fifth inning before Darr hit into a double play. Phelps singled with two outs, but Jacob Bender -- who ran for Prina -- was tagged out at home plate.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Stohne Stetler singled with one out before trying to score on a Sullivan single, but was tagged out at home plate as well.
"We could have tacked on, and we need to do that next time. We could have easily got to five or six runs," Prina said. "We've got to get better at those little things to win consistently. We've just got to keep working."
Mike Plecki led off the top of the seventh inning with a walk, but Denault flied out to Darr before Joop hit into a double play to end the game for the Swedes -- and their starting pitcher.
"(Sullivan) just competes," Prina said. "I'll take a kid like that on my team any day of the week. He doesn't have the best arm in this league, but he'll compete with anybody. He throws strikes. He gets people to put the ball in play, and we played good defense in the second game. You couldn't ask for a better performace from Sullivan. It was a good win for us as a team. We made some really nice plays defensively."
The Giflats scored two runs to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning.
Kaleb Denault singled and Marty Mennenga got on base with another base hit before both runners crossed home plate.
The Swedes tallied two runs of their own to tie the game in the bottom of the third inning.
Robinson and Prina each started the inning with a single before Hartlieb sent Robinson home with a base hit. Hunter Phelps sent Prina across home plate with an RBI single.
The Giflats took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning as Mennenga singled and stole a base before Cade Sestak sent him home with an RBI base hit.
Three errors by the Swedes helped Gifford-Flatville add another run to its lead in the sixth inning. Paxton finished the game with five errors.
"In the first game, we didn't play very well defensively," Prina said. "We gave them too many runs, and it got out of reach for us."
The Giflats scored two more runs in the seventh inning as Howard Fisher got on base with a walk and Sestak was hit by a pitch before both runners crossed home plate, including one on an RBI single by Josh Oliveras.
Mike Plecki led off the top of the eighth inning with a single before crossing home plate as Mennenga reached base on an error.
In the ninth inning, the Giflats added three more runs to extend their lead to 10-2.
Sestak led off with a bloop single to right field and Oliveras walked before Sestak scored on an RBI single by Matt Banaitis and Dan Plecki sent Oliveras home with a single.
After Mike Plecki was hit by a pitch, Joop sent Matt Banaitis home with a sacrifice fly ball to center field.
"Obviously, the plan is to win two anytime we come out, but I feel like we used all of our runs in the first game," Dan Plecki said.
Some of those insurance runs paid off, however, as the Swedes tallied four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Miller reached base on a third-strike wild pitch and Jacob Bender was hit by a pitch before Robinson hit a double to center field to send Miller across home plate.
Prina sent Bender home with an RBI single to left field before Robison and Prina each scored on a wild pitch.
"The first game was in no way over toward the end," Plecki said. "Our pitching struggled just a little bit."
Phelps singled to left field to put runners on first and third base with two outs, but Regez struck out to end the game.
"We didn't give up, but you can't give teams runs," Prina said. "We let that one get away from us, but we did a good job coming back."
According to Dan Plecki, Daniel Smith was one of a couple of pitchers out with an injury for the Giflats.
"He's helped us out a lot this year," Dan Plecki said. "We're nursing some injuries right now, but I think our guys have a lot of heart, and we'll play hard and keep showing up."
Playing in humid weather did not help, Dan Plecki said.
"The heat affects these guys," Plecki said. "A couple of guys complained of some leg cramps and things like that. With as few guys as we have, those guys have to play through those kind of things, and it really shows their toughness when they're playing through this kind of heat. We were kind of hoping that we could get a little bit of rain today so it would cool off."