BY AARON PATTERSON
It’s almost as if nothing will go right for the Danville Vikings this season. Aside from the weather keeping them off the field for weeks at a time, they have struggled offensively coming up with the timely hit that will break open a game, or the stellar defensive play to get them out of an inning.
After nearly one week off because of postponed games, senior pitcher Chase Thurston was eager to take the mound on Tuesday against Champaign Central. He wanted an opportunity to redeem himself for his previous outing which resulted in his first loss of the season.
Danville coach Gary Gritton couldn’t have asked for much more from his senior ace who allowed only one run through seven innings. In fact, Thurston got stronger as the game went on — impressive considering the game ultimately went nine innings. But in disheartening fashion, the Vikings dropped a 3-1 decision to the Maroons.
“You play this game long enough, you’re going to have your heart broken a few times,” Gritton said. “Chase has been on the wrong end of a couple of decisions that he’s pitched well enough to get a win and deserve a better fate.
“It was a tough one to swallow to be honest, especially with a pitching performance like that.”
Thurston (4-2) went all nine innings striking out 12 on 173 pitches. Over 66 percent of his pitches were thrown for strikes. And while there are a few he might rather have back, 15 stood out in what appeared to be a momentum-shifting moment.
Central freshman Jake Snider, son of University of Illinois hitting coach, Eric Snider, was in position to give the Maroons the lead in the seventh. With two outs and two runners on, he battled through a 15-pitch at bat, fouling off 10 of Thurston’s offerings. Snider was finally frozen on the 15th pitch and went down looking for the final out of the inning.
“It was just a battle of will,” Thurston said. “I wanted to get him out, he wanted to get a hit. It was just a head-to-head battle. It was a really tough at bat and I was really excited to get that out.”
Snider did, however, get revenge in the ninth. The freshman lefthander took the first pitch of his at bat to left-center field for a two-out, two-run double that ultimately served as the game-winning hit. Both runs were unearned as Kain Shirley reached base on a dropped pop-up to shallow left, and with two outs and two runners on, Connor Mapes reached on a passed ball after striking out.
“Snider is a pest,” Gritton said. “He’s going to be a good one. He just battled and battled and battled, and Chase finally dug deep and won that at bat (in the seventh). He was really pumped. We came in the dugout and we had a lot of momentum after that. We just didn’t get it done offensively.
“Then in the ninth, Chuckie (Robinson) hits a ball 405 (feet) and the kid makes an unbelievable catch. Obviously that would have tied it, and if it rattles around it’s possibly an inside-the-parker to win it. But that’s baseball. It’s a game of inches, and we were a couple inches short today. “
Robinson flied out deep in both the first and seventh innings, and even with no wind, it appeared the future Southern Miss Golden Eagle had a two-out walk-off homer in the ninth. Robinson just happened to hit it to the deepest part of the field. Central centerfielder Mapes drifted back and leaped for the ball, crashing into the wall at the 407 mark. He held on, and the Vikings suffered their fourth loss in their last five games.
“I was praying to God he catches it,” said Central senior pitcher Scott Runyan who picked up his first-ever win against the Vikings. “Danville is always a tough opponent. I love playing against Chuckie and all of those guys. They’re a good team. We finally got one. This is my first time beating them in four years.”
Runyan (6-6) also threw all nine innings striking seven and giving up only four hits on 140 pitches. He also walked four and hit three batters, giving the Vikings potential scoring opportunities throughout the contest. Danville left a total of 11 runners on base with seven in scoring position.
“I’m disappointed offensively,” Gritton said. “Too many called third strikes, not competing at the plate. It’s just not acceptable. I know we are challenged offensively. We have some limitations there. But all I ask is that we go up there and compete and we didn’t do that today. Too many called third strikes and guys getting tense in pressure situations. That’s got to get better.”
The two teams are scheduled to meet again on Thursday in Champaign. Danville has a total of five games in the next seven days, and Gritton is hopeful the consistency will bode well for his team.
The Vikings are scheduled to host Champaign Centennial tonight at Danville Stadium.