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ALTON – Just like they did in the Illinois state tournament, the Metro East Bears have battled their way through the loser's bracket to reach the final day of the 2015 American Legion Great Lakes Regional baseball tournament.

The Bears grabbed an eight-run lead through five-and-a-half innings of their game against Midland, Mich., Saturday night, only to see Midland cut the lead to 8-5 before a Matt Zielonko home run in the seventh steadied them. Midland managed to cut the lead again but the Bears held on for a 9-7 win to advance to Sunday's climatic games at Gordon Moore Park/Lloyd Hopkins Field

Metro East will take on Madison, Wis., at 1 p.m. Sunday in an elimination game, with the winner meeting Midland 45 minutes after that game for a trip to Shelby, N.C., for the American Legion World Series that begins Wednesday. Madison moved into Sunday's play with a 4-2 win over Elgin, Ill., in the late afternoon game Saturday.

Jordan Hovey on the mound for the Metro East Bears.Jordan Hovey got the ball for the Bears and threw six-plus innings before Drake Hampton stepped in, like he did the afternoon before in the win over Plover, Wis., and finished off Midland with three solid innings of relief.

“I pitched the best that I could,” Hovey, who hadn't gone this long on the mound in some time, said. “My shoulder had been a bit sore, but I wanted to go out there and help my team; we've played well all year and we just wanted to get a win.

“All that matters right now is winning and anything I can do to help my team win, I'll give everything I can.”

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“That was a big effort from Jordan,” Bears manager Ken Schaake said. “He wanted to go out there and help the team. Give him credit, he's got a big heart and was mixing up his fastball, curve and change-up against a good-hitting team.”

Hovey was staked out to a quick lead, the Bears scoring twice each in the first three innings. Mitchell Krebs and Connor Melton had RBI hits to put Metro East out in front in the first, Hampton stroked a two-run double in the second and back-to-back wild pitches in the third brought in Aaron Jackson and Krebs in the third to put the Bears up 6-0 and seemingly in control of things.

Hovey was cruising along for the most part, getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second when Michael Wesbley was thrown out trying to score on a pitch that got away when Nick Paulda recovered the ball and tossed to Hovey, who was covering home, and then getting Caleb Sommerville to ground out to short to end the inning. The Bears added another run in the fourth when Hampton scored on a Krebs grounder to first and again in the sixth when Jackson launched a pitch over the fence in left to put Metro East up 8-0.

But like they did the night before in a win over Madison, Midland rallied back. A fielding error allowed leadoff hitter Cole Brooks to reach base to open the sixth, followed by Carson Eby drawing a walk and Wesbley reaching on a fielder's choice to load the bases. Hovey struck out Jordan Bopp for the first out, but a Ty Jones single brought in Brooks and a double from Sommerville scored Eby and Sommerville to make it 8-3. Jordan Patty then grounded to second to bring in Jones and a Derrick Clyde single scored Sommerville. Clyde was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double, but Midland found themselves back in the game at 8-5.

Zielonko steadied things at 9-5 when he hit a one-out homer to left-center, but a two-run single from Bopp scored Connor Smith and Brooks to cut the lead to 9-7. By that time, Hampton had come in to pitch and shut down Midland to end the game.

“That was a tough way to lose,” said Midland manager Steve Cronkright, “but I was impressed with how they (the Bears) swing the bat. They've got a good team there.

“We're still in good shape, we played hard and kept coming. We're looking forward to tomorrow.”

Today's games will be lived-tracked at the American Legion baseball website,

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The 2016 American Legion Great Lakes Regional Tournament Championship