PLAINFIELD – Michael Hilker tossed a four-hit shutout and six Yorkville players drove in runs as the Foxes cruised past Plainfield South, 11-0 in six innings in Wednesday afternoon’s Class 4A sectional semifinal.
The sixth-seeded Foxes (17-13-1) advance to host 13th-seeded Plainfield East, who beat ninth-seeded Neuqua Valley 8-4 in Friday’s sectional final.
It is Yorkville’s first sectional final appearance since 2002, when the Foxes won the program’s only sectional title.
“Going in we didn’t know much about them other than they beat us (10-6 on May 19),” Hilker said. “I just took the approach of attacking early on and throwing strikes.”
Hilker escaped potential danger in the first two innings, but for the most part made it look easy, scattering four hits, walking three and striking out six.
“My curveball helped a lot and I was able to use my changeup at times,” Hilker said. “I didn’t throw many sliders, but I was really working my two-seam (fastball). After pitching (last Friday against Oswego East in the regional semifinal) I figured my velocity might be down.”
Holding the fingers down and calling the pitches was catcher Luke Hanson, who also delivered with his bat. Hanson drove in the only run the Foxes would need in the second inning with a sacrifice fly. He later added a beautiful sacrifice bunt with two strikes and he’d help break the game open by hammering a two-run double down the left field line as part of a seven-run sixth inning.
“(Hilker) and I have a lot of chemistry and we trust each other,” Hanson said. “Coach let me call my own game and we had such a good game plan. I have a lot of faith in (Hilker) and this team, and with a defense like that, I know what we need to do.”
The Foxes received run-scoring singles from Ryan Shimp and Cole Yearsley after Hanson had pushed Lukas Haddox and Max Pesola to third and second, respectively, on his sacrifice bunt in the top of the third inning.
“The team trusts me with bunting, and with 0-2 I had the sign to swing but felt like I could get (the bunt) down,” Hanson said. “Whatever it takes to help us get the win.”
The Foxes extended their lead to 4-0 in the inning on Kyle Mack’s bases loaded walk.
Meanwhile, Hilker had insurance, a good thing to have after the Foxes escaped Tuesday’s regional championship with Plainfield North 11-10 with the tying and winning runs on base before securing the final out.
But Hilker wouldn’t need it.
“Ever since we went down 2-0 to Oswego East (in the regional semifinal) we’ve been talking about how do we respond,” Hilker said. “We went out there and did our best and got a really good team win.”
In the bottom of the fifth with two runners in scoring position and two outs, Hilker got Jeremy McGuigan to fly out to Yearsley in center to end the threat.
Whether that really fired up the Foxes while souring the Cougars’ bid for a comeback wasn’t known immediately, but after 12 Foxes came to the plate in the seven-run top of the sixth, Yorkville undoubtedly had the game in cruise control.
Owen Ross and Haddox had RBI singles, Pesola pushed home another run with a walk, Hanson drove in a pair with a double before Shimp followed with a two-run single to make it 11-0.
“I think this is the fourth game in a row where everyone has had a hit,” Hanson said. “We’ve been playing better the last three weeks. We still make mistakes, but we’re the sixth seed and we’re still playing in a sectional.”
Plainfield South (18-7) only mustered four hits on the afternoon with a double from Brennan Phillips in the first inning accounting for their lone extra base one.
“The better baseball team won today,” Cougars coach Phil Bodine said. “Maybe if we had one more day with the top of the pitching rotation, but we didn’t have it today and Yorkville’s a really good team with good kids.”