By Mike Buhler
The Goreville Blackcats and Lady Blackcats have had quite a run in sports over the last 12 months — with the softball team winning a state title last spring, the girls basketball team winning two regional titles and the baseball and volleyball teams winning regional titles as well.
However, there was another Goreville sports team that had a memorable run for several years back in the late 1970s — the Goreville Merchants men’s fastpitch softball team.
“Every town in the area had a team, from Goreville to Dongola to Carbondale,” said Mike Turley, who played for the Merchants. “We just loved it — we wanted to play so bad that if the field was a bit damp, we would buy diesel and burn the field off to dry it. In the summer, we’d play in such hot weather the spikes would barely go through the dirt.” Turley added that the Merchants would sometimes play two or three doubleheaders a week.
Turley’s teammate Rodger Webb said that the Mechants and other teams were more like town teams.
“At that time, it was the best sport going,” Webb said. “The competition was just awesome. There were so many teams that stood out to me.”
Webb said that it was a different time back then.
“At the time, they didn’t have summer baseball like they do now,” Webb said. “Every local town had a team, so we just started from there and continued to get better.”
Webb was also the team’s top pitcher back in the day.
“It was just a good time in our lives,” Webb said. “I can’t even remember how old we were — we were probably in our late 30s — but we had several local people that were on it.”
Besides Turley and Webb, other players on the Merchants included Ned Ray, Larry McGee, Bob and Tom Tripp, Bob Massey, Jim Page, Jack Shubilla, Bob Webb, Bob Wright and Greg Cruse.
The Merchants made it to the state tournament in Altamont in 1979 — a highlight of the team’s history.
“It was wonderful,” Turley said. “We’d been trying to get there for several years. … The first night there, we got rained out and had to drive back [home] — then had to drive back the next day and finish the game. We got beat 3-2, but if we hadn’t been so travel-tired, I think we would have won — but you never know.”
However, that was not the end of the Merchants’ season — or even their day that day.
“Then we had to go back to Herrin and play in a tournament that night, in the Dairy Queen tournament — which the Merchants won,” Turley said.
As the staff ace, Rodger Webb was also the workhorse of the pitching staff — which he did not seem to mind.
“Back then, I was pretty well the only pitcher we had,” Rodger Webb said. “A lot of nights, I’d throw a doubleheader — but I had a lot of good people who played with me. I wasn’t a superstar by any means.”
As Rodger Webb reflects on the Merchants’ run more than four decades ago, just getting to play was one of the best parts.
“To me, it was just the playing,” Rodger Webb said, “the players having the opportunity to play and getting to go to state.”