PEKIN — The next time Pekin High School hosts an athletic event, the Panthers will welcome in Sigourney-Keota in late August at Tom Stone Field for the latest chapter in the Backyard Brawl.
One night after the Panther softball team won its final home game, a 3-0 regional first round win over Danville, the Panther baseball team made the most of one final night on the adjourning baseball diamond. Lathan Weaver had two hits, including a game-tying RBI infield single in the fourth, as Pekin rallied for a 7-1 Southeast Iowa Superconference north division win over Louisa-Muscatine in a game that started two weeks earlier and finished on Tuesday night.
"It was another great night and another great conference win," Pekin senior catcher Quinn Ledger said. "I always enjoy being at the ball field, so anytime we have a chance to play, let's do it."
Pekin used four pitchers, including the original starter Chandler Stull who earned his second win of the season pitching into the fifth. Tanner Bainbridge, one of five Panther seniors playing at Pekin High School for the final time, retired Kaiden Schiendler with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh on strikes to clinch a 13-8 regular-season record. Pekin opens Class 1A district play Saturday against Keota.
"I was trying to get Pie (Pekin head baseball coach Curtis Reighard) to put me for the entire seventh inning," Bainbridge joked. "It was all good. It felt good to get that last out with the bases loaded. The game was a little closer at that point, so it felt good getting that last out in that situation."
Pekin and Louisa-Muscatine were scoreless with two outs in the bottom of the second inning back on June 25 when thunderstorms brought a halt to the game. The two teams returned to Pekin with Weaver striking out against Keaton Velez, who came on to pitch at the start of the resumption on Tuesday after Jared Woerly had originally started and pitched up to the weather delay two weeks earlier.
Pekin originally was not supposed to have another game this week with postseason play starting on Saturday. Thanks to inclement weather, the Panthers got to spend one last night together on their home diamond to close out the regular season.
"Other than the sun being in your eyes the whole game when you're batting and, for me, when you're catching, it's great to be here at this field," Ledger said. "We've played here for six years together as seniors going back to playing in middle school. We've gotten used to everything here. It turned into another enjoyable game."
Ledger scored the tying run in the fourth inning after drawing a lead-off walk, coming home from third on a ball hit too slowly on the infield for Louisa-Muscatine to field before Weaver reached base. After stealing second, Weaver would score the go-ahead run on a two-out RBI single to right by Mason Juhl, giving Pekin the lead for good.
Ledger walked and scored again in the fifth as Pekin opened the lead up with back-to-back run scoring hits from Cael Baker and Weaver, leading 5-1 entering the sixth. Bainbridge recorded one last RBI at home, driving in senior teammate Caleb Comstrock with a sacrifice fly. Comstock had two hits and scored two runs in his final home game at Pekin having started for the Panthers in football, basketball and baseball.
"It really was a beautiful night for baseball. I was soaking it all up when I was walking out to play shortstop in the seventh," Bainbridge said.
"It stinks that it's our final night to play here at home, but it ends eventually," Ledger added. "I've got goosebumps right now just thinking about it."
Pekin also finishes with a 10-4 SEISC north record while Louisa-Muscatine finishes the regular season with a 4-15 record, including a 2-12 conference mark. The Panthers open postseason play against Keota at IMS Saturday at 5 p.m. The Panthers need four wins to qualify for the Class 1A state baseball tournament.
"I think we're getting hot at the right time," Bainbridge said. "Our bats are starting to come around. Everyone's starting to play well as a team. I think we can really make some noise starting on Saturday.
"Everybody is getting more confidence. We're hitting a good spot where we can maybe do some damage," Ledger added.