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Gillespie HS baseball wins first sectional semifinal since 2002 but ‘dream season’ ends with championship defeat

The 2023 Gillespie High School baseball team went down as one of the most successful units in program history, posting a school record of 32 victories. Other milestones included the program’s first undefeated regular season, 16th regional title, an outright South Central Conference championship and the Miners’ first sectional semifinal victory since 2002. Enquirer~Democrat photo by Jackson Wilson.


Enquirer Democrat Reporter

The Gillespie High School baseball ‘dream season’ came to an end last weekend, but the Miners could hang their axes on a treasured mantle that had been barren since 2002.

Gillespie killed two birds with one stone May 24, advancing to its first Illinois High School Association Class 2A sectional championship game in 21 years while avenging an 8-1 loss its team had suffered in semifinal action against former state qualifier Maroa-Forsyth a season ago.

The Miners won the rematch over the Trojans, 7-2, in an eight-inning classic at Lincoln Land Community College.

After Gillespie failed to hold a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Maroa-Forsyth had a chance to eliminate the Miners once again. The Trojans were actually inches away from doing so, but GHS catcher Ian Brown made a season-saving tag on an all-out ‘head first’ dive to the plate.

Starting pitcher Colton Bultema had been on cruise control, particularly down the stretch, for Gillespie. The Blackburn commit fell behind 1-0 early but proceeded to retire 11 of the next 12 hitters leading up to the seventh while the Miners rallied. However, the senior issued a leadoff walk and then gave up a one-out game-tying single to Maroa’s Ryan Crowe after throwing a wild pitch that advanced the equalizer into scoring position. GHS head coach Jeremy Smith, who was a member of the last Gillespie team to win a sectional contest in 2002, assigned lefty Bryan Jubelt with the task of forcing extras.

Jubelt retired the No. 9 hitter for the second out before intentionally walking leadoff batter Kaiden Maurer to set up a force play after Crowe had gone to second base.

Jubelt induced a softly-struck groundball that he fielded cleanly near the bump, but a wonky throw to first caused Bryce Hohnsbehn to stumble into the runner’s path and thus collide with Maroa catcher Mitch Williams. Realizing that both players had fallen to the ground on impact and Williams was safe, Crowe rounded third and broke for the plate. Hohnsbehn quickly sprung to his feet, found the loose baseball and fired a rocket into the mitt of Brown, who caught the ball and made his diving tag on Crowe all in one motion to crash the walkoff celebration.

As strange as it seemed, Gillespie’s eighth inning rally was started by someone striking out. Link had been set down on three pitches, but the third toss hit the dirt and Williams threw the ball wildly to first base, allowing the GHS senior to reach base for the fourth time in as many at-bats.

Kamryn Link previously came around to score the tying run in the top of the fourth after poking one of his three hits on the evening down the right-field line for a double. With runners at first and second in the top of the fifth, Link struck again on an infield single that plated the go-ahead run in Tristan Wargo, who worked a one-out walk and advanced to second on a Jubelt base hit.

For the second time in the game, Bryce Hohnsbehn stepped to the plate with Link stationed in scoring position. Just as he did in the fourth inning, Hohnsbehn hit a line drive into the outfield grass for an RBI single. The junior’s go-ahead knock not only restored Gillespie’s one-run lead, but triggered a sequence of disastrous events for Maroa. Thanks to four walks, two errors and a wild pitch that followed, the Miners were able to manufacture insurance runs and take full command of the contest without getting the ball out of the infield.

Jubelt then went back out with the comfortable cushion intact and flawlessly sealed the victory in his first full inning of work.

Gillespie had an opportunity to win its second sectional championship in school history but the 1991 team remained without company as the Miners bowed their heads in defeat for the first team all season against Quincy Notre Dame May 27. The opposing Raiders, behind the sharp arm of their ace Jake Schisler, blanked Gillespie 5-0 and then went on to dominate Bloomington Central Catholic, 13-1, in the super sectional and punch their ticket to state two days later.

Link made the start and lasted five-and-two-third innings in the loss to QND, allowing two earned runs on three hits while recording five strikeouts. Jubelt again worked in relief, surrendering one run on two hits and retiring three batters via the K.

Offensively, Gillespie managed just five singles against Schisler, who twirled a complete-game shutout that consisted of three free passes and eight strikeouts.

Gillespie, under the leadership of six seniors – Link, Jubelt, Bultema, Brown, Chase Helvey and Jaiden Johnson, concluded the season with a school record 32 victories (32-1 overall), an outright South Central Conference title and regional championship No. 16.