The Effingham Flaming Hearts were in a familiar place as they found themselves in a sectional semi-finals for the third year in a row.
The Flaming Hearts won 3-2 over the Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones to advance to the IHSA Class 3A Springfield (Sacred Heart-Griffin) Sectional Finals against Chatham (Glenwood).
The Flaming Hearts let up two runs in the bottom of the first. A single passed the short stop and a hit batter put two Cyclone runners on. Those two runners scored on a ground rule double. Two straight walks from Effingham's pitcher Matthew Loy loaded the bases up. Head coach for the Flaming Hearts Chris Fleener came out to the mound and made a change. Jackson Lee came in with two outs and closed out the inning with a fielders choice. Jackson Lee said that he just wanted to throw a few strikes and let the defense make the plays.
Effingham then sent up all nine hitters in the top of the second and put three runs on the board. Jackson Lee doubled while Nick Bishop and Zach Lee walked to load the bases. Colin Fielitz reached on a fielders choice that got Jackson Lee out at home. A run scored when Kendall Ballman was hit by a pitch and Tanner Gordon singled to bring in a run. Cooper Jackson walked which put Effingham up 3-2.
At the start of the bottom of the third inning, the Cyclones got on with a bunt single but then the lightning came. The weather delay lasted an hour and a half. Both teams were in their respective locker rooms. Fleener gave his team a a "halftime speech" during the delay.
"We told him that we're all in this together. We're all wearing an Effingham jersey and all the people in the past that have worn Effingham jerseys, they don't get this opportunity all the time," Fleener said. "And we need to make the most of it. We just wanted the boys to come out with some energy and help each other out and what I saw was the kids picking each other up. Someone makes a mistake, somebody else makes a great play."
Those mistakes and great plays came in the later innings. In the bottom of the sixth, Cyclones Jack Schafer made it to third base on what could have been a costly error. But the defense ended up backing up Jackson Lee and getting him out of the inning with three straight outs.
Again, Jackson Lee got into a predicament. Another error by the Flaming Hearts defense put a base runner on in the bottom of the seventh. Two outs later, Jackson Lee hit batter and walked to load the bases up. Fleener then went out and talked to him. Fleener said he told Jackson Lee to calm down.
"You need to take a big breath of air buddy. I said 'you're going to be fine,' I said 'this is your last batter' and 'you can make the most of it.' I ask you one time to dig down and get a little energy here and try to finish the game off and he did," Fleener said. "Outstanding performance I thought. His best performance all year. I thought he kept his demeanor on the mound and kept his control and stayed calm and was able to handle himself on the mound real well."
After the weather delay, Jackson Lee was throwing fierce on the mound. He struck out the first two batters he faced after the delay. He said that his fastballs were working and that his two-seam fastball was dropping and looking like a sinker. In the last inning, he said that he did not really feel any nerves and that he just wanted to get the game over with and get the win.