2022 Falcons Claim Third Straight Thome Trophy in Peoria Sunday Morning League

Peoria Sunday Morning League

Miller Lite Falcons 8, Crusens Reds 3 (Game two of championship series sweep)

Submitted by Tim Cundiff, League President

August 15, 2022-On June 26, Miller Lite was in a bad spot. They just lost both games of a doubleheader to Pour Bros, and it looked like the back-to-back champions of the Peoria Sunday Morning League had finally cooled off. 

Fast-forward to August 10, and the Falcons are once again raising the Thome Trophy at Dozer Park after a sweep of the Crusens Reds in the championship series.

The third straight title run was unprecedented. After a 4-5 start, Miller Lite rattled off 12 wins in their next 14 games to claim the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs. Three one-run games later, they are in the championship, and before you can even blink the champagne is popping.

“It doesn’t get old,” Falcons manager Lance Hrdlicka said. “It’s different each year; different group of guys, different route to get there but it all feels just as good when you’re done.”

Against the Reds, a team that beat Miller Lite three times during the season, they had their work cut out for them. This team excelled in close games, winning 10 of 15 in victories within two runs or less. 

However, it was strong pitching that got the Falcons here, and it was strong pitching that led them to victory. 

Game one was highlighted by David Ellis throwing 5.1 innings, allowing no runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Spencer Walker then kept that shutout, shoving the last 1.2 innings while only giving up one hit. 

Crusens had a similar mound performance, with Hunter Thornton going the whole game and giving up two runs on four hits with six strikeouts. It was his team-leading third complete game of the year.

The only runs in this one came in the second when Tyler Bishop’s single scored his brother Bryce and Noah Campbell’s sacrifice fly scored Tyler. Both teams could only muster four hits.

Although the hits weren’t falling, Hrdlicka knew the team put the barrel on the ball and did just enough to squeeze out a win.

“The first game…everybody was hitting the ball hard, hitting on a line,” Hrdlicka said. “Everybody was feeling pretty comfortable in there and even the first time through the lineup I think a lot of guys were seeing the ball well.”

Game two had a little more action. Miller Lite got the scoring going immediately with Luke Ketchum’s sacrifice fly in the first, but Crusens would quickly respond with a run of their own after a Falcons error in the second. 

Things were quiet until the fourth when Miller Lite would put up seven runs in the inning to pull away from the Reds. Five singles and a hit-by-pitch led to three of the runs, with RBIs by Jonah Ziegler-Harris and Campbell, then a double by Colin Dearing plated two more. The last two came on an error and a groundout, leaving a huge hill to climb for Crusens.

The Reds attempted a comeback in the sixth, with Jack Keuthe’s double and Ashton Johnson’s single scoring two runs. That was all they could muster, however, and the Miller Lite Falcons became the 2022 PSML champions. 

“We just had some tough breaks,” Reds manager Chris Mauerman said. “They made a lot of good plays on defense. We hit the ball on the barrel and it just didn’t fall for us in the right situations.”

The standout pitcher this time around for Miller Lite was Clay McConkey. The league’s all-time strikeout leader bounced back from his worst performance of the year his last time out against Kohl’s and pitched a complete game, striking out eight while giving up three runs on six hits and no walks. 

Giving up eight runs in their 13-12 semifinal loss to the Royals, McConkey needed to have a better outing this time around, and Hrdlicka recalls the competitive spirit he displayed after his last start.

“The day after he was texting me ‘Aw man, I blew it,’” Hrldicka said. “I told him ‘just get past it, get to the next start.’ He’s been working hard all week and he’s a competitor so he’s gonna give you everything he’s got and he showed it all here tonight.”

League MVP Cam Scott went 3-4 in the final game, with Campbell, Dearing, and Chase Ulrich also picking up multiple hits for the Falcons. Thornton and Johnson each got two hits for Crusens

In a season filled with ups, downs, and everything in between, Hrdlicka and the Falcons overcame all the obstacles to reach the promised land, and the fifth-year manager appreciates his team’s effort all year long.

“[There’s] no game you feel like you’re out of,” Hrdlicka said. “Even if we’re behind, if we’re up, they’re gonna close it out. I give all the kudos to the guys because they come out, compete, and they know what they have to do to win.”

Despite the losses, the Reds made it all the way to the championship game and won the regular season title for the first time in their team’s history. There’s a lot to be proud of, and Mauerman knows this as well.

“We have a lot of great players,” Mauerman said. “Put up some great stats, a lot of good teammates and we had a lot of fun.”

Winning manager of the year in his first season at the helm, Mauerman is already planning a return trip to Dozer Park.

“My first year doing this, you know, I had a blast,” Mauerman said. “We’ll be back next year.”