ROCKFORD – Boylan Catholic put Sycamore in a strange position after a big fifth inning Saturday in the Class 3A Boylan Catholic Regional championship: trailing late in the game.
But Conner Williar had a game-tying single as the No. 1-seeded Spartans turned a two-run deficit into a lead in a 7-3 win over the fourth-seeded Titans, advancing to the sectional round for the second straight year.
“You don’t want to see them staying up. You’re trying to punch them back in the mouth as fast as you can. To get them back in that inning was a blessing.”— Conner Williar, Sycamore designated hitter
“You don’t want to see them staying up,” Williar said. “You’re trying to punch them back in the mouth as fast as you can. To get them back in that inning was a blessing.”
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Williar singled home Kiefer Tarnoki and Tommy Townsend to tie the score, then Owen Piazza grounded out, scoring Addison Peck. Williar scored on a single by Joey Puleo to push the score to 5-2
“Heads were down a little, but it takes motivation, it takes leaders on your team, takes everybody to get back into that game,” Williar said. “We’re a hard team to beat, and you just have to have confidence.”
The Spartans (32-5) scored in the top of the first and clung to that 1-0 lead into the fifth behind starter Jimmy Amptmann. The Titans (21-13) finally got through off Amptmann in the fifth with Austin Alonzo launching a two-run, two-out triple to put Boylan ahead 2-1.
After an error and a hit by pitch brought home another run, and the Titans still had two on, coach Jason Cavanaugh came out to talk to Amptmann, electing to leave him in instead of going to the bullpen.
Amptmann induced a groundout by Henry Berg to end the inning.
“We just told him make one good pitch,” Cavanaugh said. “You can’t strike a guy out on one pitch. That’s what we talk about a lot, just make one good pitch. See it happen in your mind, then you’re body will try to execute it. It was stressful in the fifth inning there. We got punched, but we turned around and threw a couple punches right back.”
Tarnoki led the first off by reaching on an error, got to third on a single by Townsend and scored on a single by Kyle Hartmann. But that one run is all either team would score into the fifth.
Up 5-3, Sycamore added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. with Peck scoring on a sacrifice fly by Townsend and Hartmann singling home Lucas Winbrun.
Cavanaugh said the two insurance runs were huge.
“We haven’t been down in games often, and we haven’t been down in the fifth inning in a really long time,” Cavanaugh said. “It was good to see the character our kids showed.”
Townsend pitched the final two innings to collect the save, allowing one hit and string out two. Amptmann allowed five hits, struck out five and walked three in allowing two earned runs.
Williar was 2 for 3 in the win, scoring once and driving in two runs. He also drew his first career intentional walk with a runner on second and two outs in the sixth. Sycamore finished with nine hits, with Hartmann having two of them.
Sycamore’s expectations have been sky high all season, and while the team didn’t make good on winning the Interstate 8 Conference – the Spartans lost to Morris, which was bounced from the postseason Saturday with a 2-1 loss to Rock Island – it did win its third regional in the past four postseasons.
“It’s a goal,” Williar said. “You put a goal sheet down, win regional, win sectional, then state. We want to try to check off every single one of them. And it’s just amazing to accomplish a goal.”
The Spartans will face St. Francis in a Class 3A Kaneland Sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The teams met in a sectional semifinal last year, with the Spartans winning 9-7 in Sycamore after trailing by six.
“This team has come with such high expectations all year long,” Cavanaugh said. “You got 30 wins, we weren’t able to get the conference championship that came down to one game. It feels good to check a box in terms of what one of the team goals was at the beginning of the year.”