Prep baseball: Ethan Wilnau, Genoa-Kingston storm back to top Rockford Lutheran

Genoa-Kingston's Ethan Wilnau fields a grounder in center field as Brody Engel runs by during their game against Rockford Lutheran Tuesday, May 2, 2023, at Genoa-Kingston High School.

GENOA – In the bottom of the third inning, a triple by Ethan Wilnau was pivotal in giving Genoa-Kingston the lead.

In the top of the fourth, a defensive play by Wilnau was pivotal in preserving it.

“He had a decent curveball that I kind of whiffed at a couple times. But I just knew I had to sit back. I got a fastball and I just turned on it. I knew I got three right away when I saw it in the gap.”

—  Ethan Wilnau, Genoa-Kignston baseball

Wilnau had three hits, three runs scored, five RBIs and a big defensive stand in a game in which solid defense was at a premium, helping the Cogs erase an early five-run deficit for a 17-8 win against Rockford Lutheran on Tuesday.

“So far this year we haven’t really shown after something like [that], we’re usually heads down, confidence is low,” Wilnau said. “But a few things fell our way, and after that we started seeing they were letting up and our confidence just skyrocketed.”

The Cogs (5-14, 2-11 Big Northern Conference) trailed 8-5 in the bottom of the fourth after the Crusaders (2-12, 2-10) scored three unearned runs off G-K reliever Evan Thompson. Justyn Farrar singled and Tristan Swenson and Colton Hinds followed with two-out walks.

Wilnau, who was 0 for 2 with a strikeout to that point, hoped not to see another curve from starter Jackson Heideman. He didn’t, ripping a fastball to center, scoring three runs, and chasing Heideman from the game.

“He had a decent curveball that I kind of whiffed at a couple times,” Wilnau said. “But I just knew I had to sit back. I got a fastball and I just turned on it. I knew I got three right away when I saw it in the gap.”

Wilnau scored on a single by Nolan Perry as the Cogs took the lead for the first time. While they didn’t give it back, it looked in jeopardy in the fourth with Thompson issuing a pair of two-out walks. Owen Anderson then ripped the shot to right-center, but Wilnau tracked it down and lunged to make the catch, ending the inning and the threat.

Thompson and Nathan Kleba combined to get the last nine Rockford Lutheran batters in order.

“It would have been tied or we would have been down by one if he doesn’t make that catch,” G-K coach Anson Ellis said. “That was a huge play in the game. That’s why we’re confident with him out there. He can run the ball down as well as anybody in the area.”

The Cogs added five in the bottom of the fourth to put the game away, aided by a two-run double by Wilnau. Genoa-Kingston scored in every inning. In the first two innings, they scored five runs on three hits and benefited from six Rockford Lutheran errors.

The Cogs had 10 hits and 12 runs in the last four innings, during which the Crusaders committed two errors. G-K committed four errors in the game, all in the first three innings, during which the Crusaders scored all eight of their runs.

“We started a little slow, but the bats started to come around,” Ellis said. “Once we started fielding the ball good things happened. That’s kind of been our struggle this year is fielding the ball. When we make the plays we significantly look better.”

Thompson ended up allowing one hit in 4 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out five.

“He’s probably been our most consistent pitcher, especially out of the bullpen,” Ellis said. “He’s made a couple of pretty good starts, usually goes three or four at the most. That’s why coming in relief has been good for him.”

Perry had a pair of hits, scored and drove in a run. Ferrar had three hits and scored three times. Hinds had a single, two walks, three runs and two RBIs.

“It seems like lately we’ve been ahead early and lost late,” Ellis said. “It was kind of nice to see us make that adjustment early on and continue. I think six of our losses have been tied or within one going into the sixth or seventh and we’ve ended up losing. It’s nice we didn’t let up those last few innings and continued scoring.”