The Vandalia Guaranteed Air Freight softball team saw its quest for perfection evaporate in the blistering sun Sunday in the final game of the John Heather Tournament.
But despite watching a 7-3 seventh-inning lead slip away in an eventual 9-8 extra-inning loss to Lee's Sports Falcons, the Freight can thank dominating play in their prior three games for a second-straight tournament title.
The Freight (11-3) clinched the championship by outscoring their opponents 26-2 over its first three games, taking the sting out of a finale that saw Lee's Sports avoid an 0-4 tournament showing with a valiant comeback.
Vandalia will be back in action this week, as it will look to defend its ASA Illinois state title at Altamont. Tournament pairings were not available at press time.
Lee's Sports 9, The Freight 8
The Freight looked to be on the brink of a perfect 4-0 tournament run after Rich Well bounced a two-run homer off the top of the centerfield fence to give Vandalia a 7-3 lead after six innings.
Considering it was 95 degrees in the shade - and that it had been outscored 32-7 up to that point - it would have been easy for Lee's Sports to fold up the tents and head back to Pinckneyville.
Instead, Lee's rallied for five runs to take a sudden 8-7 lead.
The Freight quickly countered in the bottom of the seventh, as JD Arnold singled and Mike Simmons drew a walk. Bob Nagel followed with an RBI single that tied the game up, but Simmons was thrown out at the plate with the potential game-winning run, forcing extra innings.
Lee's then pushed the go-ahead run across in the top of the eighth, and Vandalia couldn't counter in the bottom of the frame.
The Freight seemed to be in charge after a four-run fifth broke up a 1-1 tie. Nagel had the big hit of the frame, blasting a two-run double on a two-strike pitch that scored Simmons and Arnold.
Hatten and Jeff Swaney added RBI singles later in the inning.
Freight ace Alan Meinhart was rolling up to that point, as he escaped second-and-third, no-out jam unscathed in the fourth thanks in large part to third baseman Randy Clampitt cutting down a runner at the plate.
But Lee's struck for two runs in the sixth and wound up scoring eight runs on 14 hits against Meinhart, who took the loss despite fanning nine and walking none.
Nagel finished a fine tournament by going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. All told, he had five RBIs over the weekend. Arnold added three hits in as many at-bats off the bench.
The Freight 4, Pete's Blues 1
Brad Sturdy capped an outstanding tournament by hurling a three-hitter and striking out 10 in a title-clinching game. Coming off a four-inning perfect game in the Freight's tournament-opening thrashing of Lee's, Sturdy walked just two and allowed no earned runs in seven innings.
The Freight made the most of its four hits off Dan Linton, as Swaney had an RBI single in the third to put Vandalia up for good, and Burnam and Hatten each went 1-for-2 with an RBI. Swaney finished with two RBIs, as his sacrifice fly put Vandalia up 1-0 in the first.
The Freight 7, Pete's Blues 1
Meinhart outdueled Barry Dalmasso in a matchup of two of the top veteran pitchers in the state, as the host team never looked back after a three-run rally in the first.
Simmons led a balanced 12-hit attack by going 3-for-4, while Arnold and Nick Casey were 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Nagel was 1-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs.
Well and Burnam chipped in an RBI single apiece in three at-bats, and Sturdy was 2-for-3.
Meinhart allowed just one earned run on three hits in seven innings, striking out 11 and walking none. His counterpart surrendered seven earned runs in six innings.
The Freight 15, Pete's Blues 0
Sturdy was perfect in a game shortened by the mercy rule, retiring all 12 batters he faced - including nine via strikeout.
Eight Freight players registered in the hit column, with Bryan Hobbie leading the way by going 2-for-3 with a homer and five RBIs.
Clampitt, Brian Buscher and Burnam added two hits apiece in as many at-bats, with Clampitt driving in three runs and Buscher and Burnam plating a run each.