SYCAMORE – Jimmy Amptmann broke out of a slump in a big way.
Amptmann gave the Sycamore baseball team the lead with a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth, and the Spartans went on to hand Dixon its second loss of the year, 7-4, on Thursday.
“I just went up there and didn’t think, nice and loose, and just put one over the fence,” Amptmann said. “I thought it was a very big deal. We grabbed the momentum with that, and grabbed the win.”
Dixon (22-2) led 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth when Gage Burdick walked Owen Piazza and hit Tommy Townsend. Then, facing a stiff wind coming in, Amptmann launched a blast over the fence in left to put the Spartans (24-5) back ahead.
Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said that even though Amptmann has been mired in a slump, that power display is why he hasn’t moved from the cleanup spot.
“Jimmy’s homer rearranged the scoreboard,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s been struggling lately, but we leave him in there for reasons like that. He’s capable of that at any time with the wind howling straight in. His went 390 feet down the line. That was a big home run, and we’ve been waiting on that from him for weeks now.”
After Byron Blaise hit an RBI double in the second and Townsend and Amptmann drove in runs in the third, Sycamore had a 3-0 lead. But in the top of the fourth, the Dukes broke through against Sycamore starter Griffin Hallahan, who had not allowed a hit through three innings.
Beau Evans started with a single, stole second, and scored on a single by Max Clark. Burdick singled, and Ethan Van Horn walked, then Bryce Feit ripped a double down the left-field line to score two and chase Hallahan from the game.
Reliever Matthew Rosado came on in relief for his first varsity outing of the year and escaped the jam.
“We looked good at times, and at other times our approach was a little off offensively,” Dixon coach Jason Burgess said. “I thought defensively we played a good game, and our pitcher threw well. Hats off to them. That’s a deep team. They have guys 1-9 that can put the barrel on the baseball, and we needed a game like this going into regionals.”
The Dukes took the lead in the top of the fifth on an unearned run. Evans doubled to left, and there were errors on both a bobble and on the relay throw, allowing Evans to score.
But in the bottom of the fifth, Amptmann hit his long blast for a two-run lead, and Piazza added an RBI single in the sixth for an insurance run.
Cavanaugh said he liked how the team regrouped after the bizarre play.
“Matt Rosado did an awesome job keeping us in that game,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re having COVID issues right now, so we’re down four pitchers. This was Matt’s first varsity appearance, and he came out and pitched great.”
Cavanuagh said three players with COVID-19 issues could be back as soon as Saturday, and a fourth player is out with a knee injury.
Rosado picked up the win and Ethan Steele got the save for the Spartans. The Spartans outhit the Dukes 6-4 in the win. Piazza had two hits and scored twice for Sycamore, while Evans had two hits and two runs scored for the Dukes.
“That’s a great win against a really quality team,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s easy to see why they won 20 games in a row and were 22-1 coming in. Their starting pitcher was as good as anyone we’ve seen this side of [La Salle-Peru’s Julius] Sanchez this year, and they played great defense and put together competitive at-bats. I think this was a great win for us today.”
Sycamore still plays Saturday in a doubleheader against Freeport before its postseason starts Wednesday against Belvidere in the Class 3A Belvidere Regional. Dixon wrapped its regular season Thursday and will start its postseason Wednesday against Sterling in the 3A Freeport Regional.
The Dukes and Spartans could meet again in the Sycamore Sectional final.
“For us, it tells us what we’ve got to work on,” Burgess said. “Obviously, these guys have a lot of great arms, and we didn’t even see their best arms today. It tells you whoever is in their way is going to be in trouble. For our guys, it was great to see good, quality baseball, and in the playoffs, this is the type of baseball you’re going to see.”