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Baseball: Illinois Lutheran takes aim at Class 1A state title

Illinois Lutheran pitcher Sam Geraci works his complete game wover Lena-Winslow. | JCunningham/For Sun-Times Media

Illinois Lutheran pitcher Sam Geraci works on his complete game win over Lena-Winslow. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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Class 1a
State Baseball

At Dozer Park, Peoria

Friday’s semifinals

New Athens (19-17) vs.
Bluford Webber (22-7), 10 a.m.

Argenta-Oreana (23-5) vs.
Illinois Lutheran (25-2), noon

Saturday

Third place, 9 a.m.

Championship, 11:30 a.m.

Updated: July 7, 2014 6:32AM



If pitching and defense are the keys to winning championships, it’s no wonder Illinois Lutheran is in position to nail down the Class 1A crown.

The numbers don’t lie.

The most runs the Chargers have allowed in a game all season is five — a testament to their quality pitching and defense.

Five is the same amount of runs the Chargers have allowed during five playoff games. Illinois Lutheran’s pitching staff has surrendered a total of 17 earned runs over 28 games. The Chargers’ top three pitchers

— Grant Farmer, Jared Buzan and Sam Geraci — have ERAs of 0.25, 0.70 and 0.37, respectively, with a combined 20-2 record.

“Without a doubt, this is the most talented pitching staff I’ve had,” Illinois Lutheran coach Mark Kjenstad said. “These guys have just gone out and dominated.”

Illinois Lutheran (26-2) is just two wins away from winning its first state championship. However, the task ahead is an difficult one, beginning at noon Friday with a state semifinal against Argenta-Oreana (23-5).

The Bombers do not boast the same mound dominance as do the Chargers. In fact, the Bombers staff has allowed more than 10 runs on five occasions. However, their top two pitchers, Keegan McHood (10-1, 0.52) and Gage Eller (7-0, 2.20) have been awfully good in their own right. McHood has struck out 125 in 67 innings, while Eller has fanned 83 in 54 innings.

“They have two really good starting pitchers,” Kjenstad said. “We’re going to have to be ready for those guys.”

Illinois Lutheran boasts six regulars hitting at least .360: Geraci (.526), Collin Borns (.384), Evan Falk (.382), Farmer (.378), Dylan Gould (.367) and Jared Buzan (.360).

The Chargers are not a team equipped to rely on the long ball. They’ve hit just five homers on the season, with Falk and Geraci tied for team-high honors with two apiece.

“We’re a team that relies on contact and have the ability to make things happen,” Kjenstad said.

Argenta-Oreana, on the other hand, has 15 round-trippers, led by Logan Jackson and Eller with five each. But after McHood (.456) and Jackson (.413), the Bombers don’t have another regular batting above .343 and have at least two starters hitting below .254.

The key for Illinois Lutheran is to pitch carefully or, if possible, around McHood and Jackson.

“We have excellent pitching,” Illinois Lutheran center fielder Mack Newson said. “But we can hit and we can play defense. Our pitchers know that.”

The Chargers have made it clear that they have one goal: to win it all.

“We have veteran players up and down our lineup,” Geraci said. “It’s up to us to play the way we’ve been taught. Our goal was never to make it to state. It’s to win it.”



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