OTTAWA – In most cases in high school baseball, when a catcher reaches base, a courtesy runner replaces him on the basepaths.
Austin Pullara of Coal City is not most catchers.
He proved that Thursday in the Coalers' 3-1 win over Illiana Christian in the semifinals of the Class 3A Ottawa Sectional. Pullara led off the bottom of the fourth with a single to left. As he broke for second on a steal attempt, Illiana Christian pitcher Tony Lucito threw to first. Pullara kept running and stole the base without a throw. One out later, with a full count on Beau Wills, Pullara stole third as Wills walked. Wills then broke for second and got caught in a rundown. On the throw back to the first baseman, Pullara broke for home and beat the throw to put Coal City ahead, 2-1.
"I don't like to have a courtesy runner put in for me," Pullara said. "I like to be a spark plug for the team when I am on base. We work on first and thirds all the time in the gym and in practices, and it paid off today."
Pullara also scored the third Coaler run in the sixth. With one out, he doubled off the fence in left, narrowly missing a home run. He went to third on a grounder back to the pitcher by Brendan Nevin and scored when Wills reached on an error.
"I thought the ball I hit was out," Pullara said. "Their fielder just stood there like he thought it was out, but it hit the fence. We ended up scoring on it, though, and that was the main thing."
The Vikings scored in the top of the first off Coal City starter Keegan Gagliardo. Isaac Lyzenga doubled to deep left-center and stole third. With two outs, he scored on an error on a ball hit by Lucito.
But the Coalers answered with an unearned run of their own in the bottom half. With two outs, Blake Harseim walked. He was off to second, and Lucito threw to first. The throw from the first baseman got away, and Harseim raced to third. He scored on an error on a ball hit by Pullara.
"We gave them one and they gave us one in the first," Coal City coach Greg Wills said. "After that, Keegan cruised through the next four innings.
Gagliardo retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced in the second through fifth innings, allowing only a single by Lucito. In the top of the sixth, Lyzenga led off with a bunt. Gagliardo fielded it, but the throw was wild and Lyzenga reached second. Wills then summoned sophomore ace Payton Hutchings to the mound.
Hutchings hit the first batter he faced before striking out the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the Illiana Christian lineup to get out of the inning. He then struck out the first batter of the seventh and got the next hitter to ground to first before things got interesting.
The next two batters walked, and the third was hit by a pitch to load the bases. After a visit to the mound by Greg Wills, Hutchings struck out the final hitter on three pitches to end the game.
"I told him he was at 41 pitches," Greg Wills said. "If he wanted to pitch Saturday, he had to throw 45 or fewer today. And he struck the guy out on three."
Coal City moved on to play Joliet Catholic Academy for the sectional title at 11 a.m. Saturday. JCA beat Tinley Park, 11-0, in the day's first semifinal game.