By RYAN CZACHORSKI
---- — OLNEY — As Kevin Daugherty watched the Effingham Flaming Hearts' lead fade from the dugout from six runs to one run, one thing never faded. His confidence that his team would hold on. Effingham led Salem 7-1 entering the seventh, with Daugherty going for a complete game. Fast forward about 20 minutes, and the Hearts' backs were against the wall, up 7-6 with the game-tying run on third and on their third pitcher of the inning. But Daugherty and the rest of the Hearts watched Drew Levitt blow one by Riley Martin to end the game, giving Effingham a narrow 7-6 win and a berth in Saturday's regional title game. "I knew we would it get it done, honestly," Daugherty said. "That's the thing about this team. Someone always steps up and does the job."Effingham (18-13) will face either Mattoon or Charleston, following today's other regional semifinal in Olney.After the 12-inning marathon win Monday, Effingham came out on fire, scoring two in the first. Drew Levitt knocked in Braydon Bone with a double to left field, and came around to score when Dirk Levitt reach on an error. The Hearts blew things open in the third, scoring four runs in the inning, all with two outs. After a failed double steal by Alex Carie, where he was thrown out at the plate, Dirk Levitt came through with his second RBI of the game with a single. Devin Mayfield drove in one two batters later, making it 4-0 and chasing starting pitcher Zach Tate from the game. Adam Koester and Austin Webb both drew walks, the latter driving in a run, and Bone responded with an RBI single to make it 6-0 after the top of the third. "The first three innings we hit the ball pretty well," said Effingham coach Chris Fleener. "I was pleased with our bats today, the kids had better approaches."Salem got on the board with an RBI double by Brock Irwin after an error extended the inning. The Hearts answered right back, however. Drew Levitt walked, advanced on a bunt, and came around to score when an attempt to catch him stealing by Irwin went wide of third, allowing Levitt to trot home and make it 7-1. From there, Daugherty cruised through the middle innings, retiring 11 batters in a row from the third to seventh innings. After getting the first out with ease, Daugherty allowed a double to Sam beavin, and back-to-back singles to TJ Alberson and Wyatt McGhee. Preston Walker came in to pitch in relief, but allowed an RBI double to Tate, an infield single to Irwin to load the bases and a two-run single up the middle to Nick Conklin. "My offspeed was doing good, I threw my slider three pitches in a row to three different batters and they smoked it," Daugherty said.Fleener turned to Drew Levitt with one out, and he promptly struck out Jared Banning for the second out. Irwin stole third with two outs, and Carter Hayes' throw went wide, scoring Irwin and putting Conklin at third with two outs. Levitt reared back and fired a fastball past Martin, ending a very stressful seventh for Fleener and the Hearts."You don't want to be in those situations, we've been in that situation several times this year," he said. "We were fortunate enough that Drew stepped us and got us out of a jam."Bone went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Drew Levitt was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI, two runs and a stolen base, while Dirk Levitt, Trenton Frey and Mayfield all had a hit on the day. Daugherty went 6.1 innings, allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and struck out seven. Levitt earned the save. "My defense played really well, Salem hit it right to them, and they made the plays," Daugherty said.Now, Effingham will face a familiar Apollo Conference foe. While they don't know what team they'll be facing yet, Fleener knows what it'll take to take home a regional crown. "We're going to have to have a lot of energy, and we're going to have to hit the ball like we did today," he said.The game begins at noon Saturday.
Effingham 204 100 0 7 8 3Salem 001 000 5 6 8 5WP - Daugherty LP - Tate SV - Dr. Levitt
Effingham: Bone (2-4, RBI, R); Carie (1-4); Dr. Levitt (2-3, 2B, RBI, 2 R, SB); Hayes (0-2, R, SB); Di. Levitt (1-4, RBI, R); Frey (1-3, R); Mayfield (1-3, RBI, R); Koester (0-1, BB, R, SB)