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Youth baseball: Junior Leaguers come back to win state, advance to Central Regional

Rock Falls rallies for title

Members of the Rock Falls Junior League team pose on Tuesday after beating Evergreen Park in the state championship game in Spring Valley. The team advances to the Central Regional that begins Saturday in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Members of the Rock Falls Junior League team pose on Tuesday after beating Evergreen Park in the state championship game in Spring Valley. The team advances to the Central Regional that begins Saturday in Fort Wayne, Ind.

For a brief time Tuesday night, the Rock Falls Junior League baseball team was thinking about an extra night of state tournament baseball.

After a two-run first inning, the 13-14 all-stars found themselves behind Evergreen Park in the state title game at Foley Field in Spring Valley.

But a big fourth inning turned the tables, and instead of having a winner-take-all title game Wednesday, Rock Falls pulled out an 8-7 victory to clinch the state championship and a berth in the Central Regional, which begins this weekend in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"We were down in the dumps for an inning or two, and I had the feeling that we were going to have to come back [Wednesday] and win it," catcher Logan Pillars said. "We were thinking, 'All right, maybe it's not going to be as easy as we we thought.

"Then, all of a sudden, we had that huge inning and we knew we're back in it and could win this thing. It was crazy, just nuts, and a lot of fun."

After relying on pitching and defense to get them to the title tilt, Rock Falls saw its pitching struggle in the middle innings Tuesday after another strong start.

But the gloves and bats helped pick things up, and putting a crooked number up in the fourth erased a deficit and gave Rock Falls a lead it would not relinquish.

"We told the boys right off the bat that state was in our future," coach Ronnie Pillars said, "and they responded when they needed to and reached that goal. Everything after this is obviously a bonus."

Both coach and catcher said their second state title in 3 years was a bit of a surprise even with the goal set that high – "I still don't really believe it," Logan Pillars said – and it was still sinking in 24 hours later.

But with six of the players having won the Little League state title in 2011 and advancing to the Great Lakes Regional in Indianapolis, this team is well aware they'll have to turn their attention to the next round as soon as possible.

In Indy 2 years ago, Rock Falls struggled to get over the butterflies and finished 0-4. While they still had a good time at the tournament, the veterans learned some valuable lessons they hope will help them this time around.

"We know we won't be the best team there, so we have to be focused," Logan Pillars said. "I think we went in 2 years ago thinking we'd breeze through the regional like we had with everything else.

"But it's real baseball down there, and we have to settle down, have fun and play good baseball to have a chance. We've just got to bear down and keep playing our best."

Coach Pillars believes the way to do that is to keep things loose and relaxed, and make sure the kids don't put too much pressure on themselves like last time.

"I don't think it will be a problem with this group," coach Pillars said, "because we're definitely a more laid-back team this year. The kids are excited, and we're happy they feel that way, so we're going to try and keep that feeling going."

Junior League Central Regional

When: Aug. 3-10

Where: Fort Wayne, Ind.

Format: Pool play, with top 6 of 11 teams advancing to bracket play

At stake: A trip to the Junior League World Series, Aug. 11-17, at Taylor, Mich.

Rock Falls' schedule

Saturday – vs. North Dakota, 3 p.m.

Sunday – vs. Missouri, noon

Monday – vs. Fort Wayne, 5 p.m.

Tuesday – vs. Minnesota, 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Thursday TBD

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