BYRON — Hall baseball coach Tom Keegan wasn’t excited about his Red Devils committing three errors and allowing two unearned runs.
However, he loosened up when No.1-seeded Hall was able to retaliate to any runs No. 2 Erie-Prophetstown put on the scoreboard in Wednesday’s Class 2A Byron Sectional semifinal.
After a two-run lead and then a tie, the Red Devils were able to pull away with a 7-3 victory to advance to the championship at 11 a.m. Saturday against either Alleman or Byron, who were suspended Wednesday until 4:30 p.m. today with Alleman up 5-0 in the bottom of the first inning.
“We have to clean it up, for sure,” said Keegan, who has led Hall to its third straight sectional final. “I have to give credit to our guys. Every time (E-P) answered we were able to answer back. We tried to extend a little bit too. We had big hits from Trez (Rybarczyk), big hits from Payton (Plym) and a big hit from Debo (Brayden DeBates) as well.
“I think early on we left seven runners on base. That’s going to be an issue as we move forward. Jimmy (DeAngelo) battled and competed. He had (one) earned run. We’re going to have to play cleaner. If we play sloppy, we’re going to be handing our uniforms in. Our guys know that.”
DeAngelo — who won the game as he allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits with seven strikeouts and no walks — was in a rhythm on the mound to start the game.
He went through six straight batters in the first two innings with three strikeouts, a line drive to Chance Resetich at shortstop, a routine groundout and a pop up as he moved quickly and efficiently.
However, the Panthers did what they could to throw off the ace’s pitches.
“I figured he was going to throw against us,” E-P coach Mike Hart said. “Yesterday at practice, we worked on everything in the outer half and driving everything the other way. I felt the guys had a little bit of confidence coming in today. They had some decent swings.
“We told our guys, ‘He’s in a rhythm and he’s going to try to keep it going.’ I said, ‘We have to disrupt the timing and frustrate him.’ I think we were able to do that here and there. He’s a good pitcher. They’re the defending state champs. He’s up for these games where we’re a little inexperienced in these situations. I thought we hung with them today.”
While DeAngelo was causing the Panthers’ offense trouble, the Hall offense wasn’t being kind to E-P pitcher Clayton Johnson, who is a University of Illinois recruit.
Hall (24-6) scored two runs in the bottom of the first as DeAngelo led off with a single, Rybarczyk hit an RBI single to score DeAngelo and Plym hit an RBI single to score Rybarczyk.
“I’ve been seeing the ball at the plate and I’ve just been connecting with it,” said Rybarczyk, who was 3-of-4 with two runs scored, three runs batted in, two singles, a double and three stolen bases. “I’ve just been feeling fast. I live for the big plays.
“We have the whole team at the park everyday. We’re putting in the work and it’s resulting in good stuff.”
E-P (17-10) turned the zero on the scoreboard in the third with a run and added another run in the fourth to tie the game at 2-2.
However, the Red Devils were able to answer quickly as junior Cole Wozniak led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk and was brought around by a walk from DeAngelo, a sacrifice from Resetich and an RBI from Rybarczyk to give Hall a 3-2 lead.
DeBates added another run for Hall in the fifth as he was walked, took second on a wild pitch, third on a balk from Johnson and scored when the ball got away from the catcher to give the Red Devils a 4-2 edge.
“We split with them earlier in the year, so we knew after we beat them 6-5 (Hall beat E-P 12-2) that it wasn’t going to be easy today,” Hart said. “We were going to have to bring our A game and we fell short of that. The free passes did us in.
“We battled. We came back. If we cut down the free passes on the mound, we probably win this game. It’s a bad way to end the season, but I’m proud of what we accomplished this year. I don’t think anyone gave us a shot for finishing second in conference (Three Rivers Conference East Division) or winning a regional title.”
E-P walked Hall eight times as Johnson had seven of them in 4 2/3 innings. He took the loss after allowing four hits and four earned runs, while striking out five.
After the Panthers scored a run in the top of the sixth, Hall had its biggest half inning in the bottom of the sixth as DeAngelo, Rybarczyk and Plym were able to score runs on RBIs from Rybarczyk, Plym and DeBates to give the Red Devils the 7-3 lead they held on to for the victory.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.