Cribbett, Elliott at the center of Falcons' historic run

May 30—GIBSON CITY — Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley baseball coach Dustin White came to Ty Cribbett and Brayden Elliott with an objective before the season started.

It would fall on their shoulders — and the Falcons' class of seven seniors as a whole — to mentor the team's younger players throughout the 2024 campaign.

"I think that as the season went on, some of these younger guys really saw just how hard those kids work," White said. "And the energy that they brought every day, they brought a lot of fun. That's been really great from my standpoint to have that kind of leadership."

The longtime friends and teammates across GCMS' baseball, football and boys' basketball teams have accomplished that goal with flying colors so far, guiding the Falcons to a 22-7-1 record and the program's first-ever trip to the IHSA state tournament.

"Our older brothers were always best friends, too," Cribbett said. "And then we kind of just were there and then we came together. We always liked the same stuff with sports and everything and just grew even closer together."

Cribbett is guaranteed two more games in his senior season with the Falcons set to play Altamont at 1 p.m. Friday in a Class 1A semifinal game to arrange a matchup with Jacksonville Routt or Ottawa Marquette on Saturday.

Elliott — a year behind Cribbett in school — will play his final two games as a teammate of Cribbett's. The duo grew up playing football and basketball together as well as baseball.

"It's going to be tough seeing all the seniors go," Elliott said. "But we've got a good group of kids coming in and I think our team will still be bonded together."

The duo's friendship is evident on and off the field.

"You can sense that as soon as you walk on the field," GCMS senior catcher Zach Price said. "Those two are like two peas in a pod. That's basically the only way to put it."

Elliott and Cribbett's relationship extends to the entire team, which Elliott says likes to spend time together away from baseball. Golf is a favorite activity of the Falcons; Elliott declared Price the best golfer on the team.

"I feel like this team is just one big friend group," Price said. "If we want to go hang out together, we all are down to hang out, go see a movie, go do something."

On the field, Cribbett and Elliott encapsulate the Falcons' fundamentally sound identity. Elliott struck out six batters and scattered five hits in seven innings as the Falcons shut out Annawan/Wethersfield 3-0 on Monday to clinch the trip to state.

Cribbett walked and scored a run to help the Falcons' cause in the super-sectional triumph.

"We haven't really given up many runs and that kind of keeps us in the game," Cribbett said. "Defense is a big part."

Elliott's effort on the mound followed a no-hitter from freshman Graydon Leonard that propelled the Falcons to a 7-1 win over Mt. Pulaski in the sectional championship game last Saturday.

Leonard adjusted to the varsity spotlight quickly over the course of the season.

"When I first came in, I was trying to adjust because it's a lot different than middle school," Leonard said. "I was just trying to get a feel for it, and as the season progressed, I've gotten a bit less nervous, we'll say."

Elliott, Leonard and Altin Nettleton have each earned five or more wins on the mound through their first 30 games, with Elliott's 76 strikeouts across 53 innings leading the way.

The Falcons' bats have backed up their pitching staff by scoring at least seven runs in four of their last five games. Elliott carries a team-best .430 batting average into the state tournament, with Cribbett close behind at .390.

"(Our pitchers') stuff is disgusting," Price said. "They are solid. They make me work but they also don't make me work. It's excellent, to be honest."

GCMS fans filled the right field line at Illinois Wesleyan's Jack Horenberger Field on Monday for the Falcons' first-ever super-sectional game. The program's lone regional championship until this season came in 2006.

A groundswell of support in Ford County has accompanied the Falcons' historic run.

"Our community is really there with us," Cribbett said. "I'm going to Subway or something and I'm getting congrats on going (to state). It's really nice knowing people are watching and supporting us."

The Falcons plan to visit Peoria on Thursday to practice and dine as a team before returning home that evening. They'll head west again on Friday morning and spend that night in a hotel regardless of the outcome of their semifinal game.

A trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., during the 2023 season wound up providing some practice with the logistics of a state finals run.

"There's still a lot of the same things to think about, so some of that stuff was kind of already in place," White said. "So that really helped out, just to give us some ideas of things to think about, what we need to take care of, making sure the kids have money and all sorts of stuff. It's been a fun process."

Friday afternoon's game at Dozer Park will mark the first state finals appearance for both GCMS and Altamont, which carries a 30-9 record and a seven-game winning streak into the tournament. On the other side of the bracket, Jacksonville Routt (2008) and Ottawa Marquette (2019) boast state titles from previous appearances.

GCMS — which won its regional, sectional and super-sectional plaques in the span of seven days — is eager to build on an unprecedented season for the program.

"I hope the kids take it all in and have that experience and see what they've created," White said. "It's hard in the spring to get a fan base for baseball because the weather is usually just terrible. ... When they all showed up at the game the other night was incredible, and I think we'll have a really good crowd and support system on Friday afternoon."