SOLON — There may have been better Pekin High School baseball teams in the past.
Yet, this year's version stands above them all.
Tanner Bainbridge and Caleb Comstock combined on a no-hitter, and the Panthers were near-flawless in their biggest game of the season, a 7-0 Class 1A substate final victory over No. 4 Calamus-Wheatland Tuesday at Solon High School.
The Panthers (17-8) will participate in the state tournament for the first time in school history, as they'll play against an opponent to be determined at Principal Park in Des Moines. Calamus-Wheatland ends the year 33-4.
"Us seniors have been preaching that it's just another game, but I think this showed that when we play our best, there isn't anyone we can't beat," said Bainbridge, who threw 6 1/3 innings before giving way to Comstock. "Once Caleb got that strikeout in the seventh, I kind of felt the chills."
"In the back of your mind you kind of think about how good the other team is," Comstock said. "But it really is just another high school team in the other dugout. We played a great game tonight."
Calamus-Wheatland entered the game as one of the elite hitting and pitching teams in 1A, ranking first in the class with a 1.25 ERA. All the numbers were on the Warriors' side, but none of that mattered to the Panthers, who were aggressive at the plate in chasing undefeated starter Max Hansen after four innings.
"We knew he was 9-0, but we've seen pitchers like him this year," said Bainbridge, who doubled in Comstock to make it 6-0 in the sixth, and also scored twice.
"He had a nasty curve ball, so if we got a good pitch to hit, we had to swing at it," Comstock said. "We had to jump on his pitches."
The Panthers broke on top in the second on an RBI double by Brady Latcham, then a three-run third gave Pekin control of the game. Kennan Winn drew a bases-loaded walk, then Lathan Weaver singled in a run, and Quinn Ledger followed with a run on an error to make it 4-0.
Ledger reached on an error to score Bainbridge to make it 7-0 in the sixth.
Bainbridge did the rest. He was rarely in trouble during a 10-strikeout performance. This was just his second full start since returning from a back injury, and he worked the strike zone to fool several Calamus-Wheatland hitters.
"Really, I just hit my spots. All of my pitches felt good tonight," he said. "Quinn called a lot of good pitches. I was just aggressive. That was a team that can hit, but my ball had a little bit of tail tonight."
Pekin coach Curtis Reighard was only mildly surprised, but absolutely thrilled by Bainbridge's effort.
"He was just terrific. That's what it looks like when you have a pitcher with a little velocity who can also hit his marks," he said. "He's part of a special group we have here. They all love to play baseball, and they're all great baseball players."
This game came on the heels of an eight-error performance in Monday's district final against Iowa Mennonite School. When they had to have it, the Panthers found their best game.
"We had practice (Tuesday) before the game, and it was like, 'There isn't going to be any more of that,'" Bainbridge said.
Pekin has had to win every postseason game on the road or at a neutral site. That hasn't made a difference.
"We're coming to our milk at the right time," Reighard said of an old saying told to him by a football coach. "We've had great baseball coaches at Pekin, and we have a good staff here.
"But it's these players that did it. These boys determined were determined to do this."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury