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Falcons punch first ticket to state finals

May 28—BLOOMINGTON — Gibson-City-Melvin-Sibley's baseball team made history on Monday afternoon.

The Falcons had never won a super-sectional plaque before defeating Annawan/Wethersfield 3-0 in a Class 1A game at Jack Horenberger Field, clinching the program's first-ever state tournament appearance with the shutout victory against the Titans.

"It's great, of course," GCMS senior Ty Cribbett said. "Nobody's ever been here before for Gibson. It just feels really great."

GCMS relied on the efforts of Elliott, who turned in seven complete innings of five-hit, six-strikeout ball.

Elliott's gem was backed up by a stellar defensive effort from the Falcons (22-7-1), who came through with multiple key plays to help the junior escape trouble.

"It's really been a big thing for us this year," GCMS coach Dustin White said. "Our defense has been playing really well. ... These guys just continue to work every day in practice, all the time. Can't be happier with them."

With a sea of red-clad fans looking on down the first-base line on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus, the Falcons carded a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning to claim control of the game.

Elliott doubled to drive in Cribbett before yielding to courtesy runner Alex Overman, who scored on a single from Zach Price.

"It boosted my confidence a lot when we got a little bit of a cushion, I would say," Elliott said. "The pressure kind of fell off, and we went from there."

Another run came across in the bottom of the third inning when Graydon Leonard hit a sacrifice fly to score David Hull, who was the hero a half-inning prior, when he dove to his left at third base to snag a two-out line drive from Zeb Rashid that would have likely scored Dylan Horrie and Maddux Heitzler.

Instead, it stranded the bases loaded and kept the Falcons in control.

"It's kind of crazy," Hull said. "You get put in that situation in your head and then it actually happens. You've got to produce and that's what happened."

The Titans outhit the Falcons by a 5-4 margin but couldn't break through thanks to a slew of key defensive plays throughout the game.

Hull's clutch catch was joined by a bases-loaded putout from first baseman Zeb Greer to Price at home plate in the third inning, as well. Leonard later initiated a double-play during a similar bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning.

"My confidence boosts way up when I know my defense is out there," Elliott said. "My defense will make any play hit to them. Anything reasonable, they've got."

Falcons fans — eager to see the program that had previously only won postseason hardware in 2006 — outnumbered Annawan/Wethersfield supporters on Monday.

Their experience from recent state finals runs in other sports — GCMS won back-to-back 2A football state titles in 2017 and 2018 and the Falcons boys' basketball program placed third at the 2019 2A state tournament — was evident by them putting forth a tailgate in front of the baseball field's main gate and gathered above the seating.

"Once you look up at them and embrace it all," Price said, "it finally actually settles in."

GCMS' historic victory on Monday will be followed by more history this weekend. A state semifinal game with Altamont (30-9) awaits at 1 p.m. Friday at Dozer Park in downtown Peoria, and win would put the Falcons into Saturday's state championship game at 1 p.m. against either Ottawa Marquette or Jacksonville Rout.

By the time Saturday evening rolls around, these Falcons will add more hardware to the school's trophy case with the program's first ever state trophy. It's just a matter of where the Falcons will finish now that GCMS is among the final four 1A teams still playing this spring.

"I'm really excited," Cribbett said. "We always have fun at practice, and hopefully we can translate that into Friday and Saturday."