Eyler, Central give Routt seven-inning tussle in Class 1A regional championship game

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MENDON, Ill. — Carter Eyler’s high school baseball career is now history, and even though it ended with a loss, there was ample reason for the Central senior to hold his head high.

And he did.

Eyler, a lanky 6-foot-2 right-hander, held heavily favored and top-seeded Jacksonville Routt at bay for the large majority of Saturday’s Class 1A regional championship game at Unity High School. In the end, Routt was able to push across the decisive run in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 2-1 victory over the upstart Panthers, the tournament’s No. 4 seed.

“I knew going in this might be my last game since I was a senior,” Eyler said. “I knew I had to throw the absolutely best game of my career against a team like Routt.”

And he did.

It just wasn’t quite enough.

“I can live with it,” said Eyler, who even managed a smile, just moments after the gut-wrenching loss that drew an ovation from fans on both sides of the field. 

A sizable turnout of about 300 was sprawled over the sun-splashed grassy areas surrounding the field, and all rose to their feet and applauded the players from both schools.

“A loss is a loss, but I feel like we ended the season playing our best ball of the year,” Central coach Jordan Tenhouse said. “Routt won the game, but we made them earn it. Eyler’s performance was the best of his career.”

The game-winning run was produced when Routt’s Conrad Charpentier bounced a one-out, bases-loaded, high-hopping ground ball toward the right side of the infield. Central second baseman Nate Peters was able to get a glove on the ball, but had no chance to throw out Nolan Turner, who scored the game-winning run with ease.

Ironically, it was Charpentier, a junior left-hander, who was also the winning pitcher for Routt, which had opened the season with 17 straight wins and entered the game hitting .382 as a team.

As good as Eyler was on this day, Charpentier was even better. The southpaw struck out 12 and did not walk a batter in raising his record to 8-1.

“He’s tremendous,” Routt coach Ryan Turner said of Charpentier. “He commanded the zone all day with three different pitches. It’s what we’ve come to expect of him.

“We’re set up as well as we possibly could be for a (deep postseason run). We had two goals at the start of the year. One was to go undefeated at home, and we did (16-0). The other was to win the state championship.”

Routt (28-5) put the first run on the board in bottom of the sixth when a two-out bloop single to right-center from Paxton Baptist plated Ryan Oswald, who had reached on one of the eight bases on balls that Routt hitters drew. Central was especially careful with Oswald the entire game, walking him three times. Oswald entered the regional final batting .461 with six home runs and 57 RBIs.

Central (14-12) tied the game with a two-out score of its own in the top of the seventh inning. After Charpentier had retired six straight batters — five by strikeout — the Panthers’ Brydon Allison doubled. He scored moments later on an RBI single from Peters, who was retired at second trying to stretch the hit into a double..

That momentum was short-lived.

The loss snapped a four-game win streak by Central, which finished the season 12-3 against Class 1A clubs.

Routt advances to meet Illini Bluffs in the sectional semifinals Wednesday at Brown County.

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