Baseball: Sycamore rolls over Rock Island, earns first trip to state

Spartans senior Owen Piazza allows 4 hits, no runs in 6 innings

Sycamore's Kiefer Tarnoki (7) connects during the second inning of an Illinois Class 3A super-sectional, Monday, June 5, 2023, in Geneseo.

GENESEO – Stellar defense and opportunistic offense proved to be a winning formula for the Sycamore Spartans on Monday night against the Rock Island Rocks.

“It really impacted the game. We really got in the pitcher’s head right away, and it was over from then. We knew we were going to come out on top.”

—  Sycamore third baseman Matthew Rosado

With an 8-0 victory in the Class 3A Geneseo Supersectional at Stone Field, Sycamore advanced to the IHSA Baseball State Tournament for the first time.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Sycamore senior pitcher Owen Piazza said. “It’s just crazy to be a part of the first team in school history to make it to state.”

The Spartans (32-5) wasted little time establishing a lead, scoring two runs in the top of the second inning.

After a leadoff flyout, they loaded the bases in the next three at-bats.

Junior Matt Rosado got things moving with a one-out single to right-center field, senior Jimmy Amptmann drew a walk,and senior Conner Williar blooped a single to right field on a 2-2 count to load the bases.

The runs were quick to follow.

Junior Collin Severson was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat to bring in Rosado for the first run, then senior Joey Poleo hit a sacrifice fly to left-center field to bring in Amptmann for a 2-0 lead.

“It was huge. Getting those first two runs early made the game so much easier,” Sycamore senior Lucas Winburn said. “It made playing defense easier, it made being at the plate easier.”

“It really impacted the game. We really got in the pitcher’s head right away, and it was over from then,” Rosado said. “We knew we were going to come out on top.”

After seizing the early momentum, Sycamore never faltered.

Piazza worked 1-2-3 innings in the bottom of the second and third, aided by great plays from Winburn. In the bottom of the second, Winburn dove for a ground ball behind first at full extension, then tossed it to first in time for the third out. In the bottom of the third, he made an almost identical play, diving for another stop behind first; except this time, he got to his feet and tagged out the runner himself.

“No [I wasn’t expecting to make both of those plays], I’m just ready for whatever happens,” Winburn said. “When the ball comes my way, I just try to make the best play I can.”

With how Piazza was rolling, it only aided a strong performance.

“I felt great on the mound today. My curveball was working really well along with my fastball,” Piazza said. “And, obviously, I had great defense behind me the whole game, diving plays, really no mistakes in the field, so that’s a big part of it, too.”

The Spartans broke the game open with a six-run top of the sixth, capitalizing on five Rocks errors.

Rosado started the rally again, roping a leadoff single to center field. Amptmann reached on an error next after junior pitcher Conner Dilulio made an impressive backhand stop but missed the second baseman with a low throw on a fielder’s choice. William Klumpp, Rosado’s pinch-runner, took third base on the error.

Williar skipped a grounder to second and reached on a fielder’s choice as Amptmann was tagged out at second, then Severson drove a single to left field to bring in Klumpp for a 3-0 lead.

And the runs just kept coming.

Up next, Puleo grounded a ball to third and reached on error after an overthrow to second base; sophomore Kyle Prebil, the pinch runner for Williar, came around for the fourth run on the error as Severson took third. Senior Kiefer Tarnoki followed with an RBI single to center field, then senior Tommy Townsend singled to right field and took second on an error as two more runs scored.

Junior Kyle Hartmann capped the six-run onslaught with an RBI single to left field, as Sycamore went up 8-0.

“Once we got those six runs across, we pretty much knew it. The game was ours,” Piazza said. “My confidence was through the roof. I know our whole team’s confidence was too after we put up those six. So it’s just a great boost to the confidence.”

Townsend relieved Piazza in the top of the seventh, inducing three groundouts around senior Jaron Morris’ single to seal the win.

Piazza allowed four hits in six innings, striking out seven with no walks.

Severson went 1 for 2 with a walk, a hit by pitch and two RBIs, and Rosado and Hartmann each went 2 for 4.