I am frightened by the crowd
For we are getting much too loud
And they'll crush us if we go too far
If we go too far.
On the sideline a handful of coaches from the other teams stood and watched and judged. They saw the uniforms and the peace signs and Sweet, smiling and joking with his players, and they stewed. In that era coaches modeled themselves after Vince Lombardi. "If Macon wins the state championship," one coach told a reporter, "it will set back Illinois high school baseball 10 years." Another, anonymously of course, called Sweet "a disgrace to the profession."
The disgrace patted his players on the butt and gathered them near the bench. "Guys, run if you get on base," he said. "Let's see if these big city boys can catch you."
It's hard to steal without base runners, though. Macon's hitters, so hot throughout the playoffs, couldn't catch up to Wronk's fastball. One Ironman after another went down swinging—six strikeouts in a row during one stretch. Worse, in the second inning, Lane Tech went up 1--0 on a sacrifice fly. BANG! BANG! BANG! went the drum.
Finally, in the fourth, the Ironmen scored twice to take a 2--1 lead, which they held until the final inning. Then the strangest thing happened: Mighty Lane Tech, not Macon, cracked under the pressure. The big city boys allowed two hits by the Ironmen, then made an error, then allowed a stolen base, and suddenly the Lane catcher couldn't stop thinking about those Macon runners flitting off first. Arnold swiped second, then third, and the runs started to pour in: 3--1, then 4--1, now 6--1! All Heneberry needed to do was shut down Lane Tech in the bottom of the inning, and Macon was headed to the state final.
There was only one problem: Now Heneberry started thinking about the magnitude of the moment. He plunked the catcher, then gave up a double, then another. Soon Lane Tech was down only 6--3, with the bases loaded and no outs.
Slowly, head down, Sweet strolled out to the mound. The crowd stared, Heneberry stared. Sweet cleared his throat. "So, everybody's looking at me like I'm supposed to come out here," he said. "So here I am."