SENECA – It’s said that in baseball pitching wins championships, but it also helps to have some of those solid mound performances in the games leading up to the title tilts. And in Friday’s Class 2A regional opener, Marquette and Seneca both had plenty.
It was the efforts off the mound that truly decided it.
In an old-school pitchers’ duel, Marquette sophomore Taylor Waldron outlasted Seneca senior Matt Cruise over all seven innings to capture an intense, 4-1 victory for the Crusaders and send them into Monday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game against No. 1 seeded Spring Valley Hall.
The Red Devils, who defeated Marquette 7-5 in Spring Valley on May 25, topped No. 8 Herscher 7-0 Friday.
“Now we have Hall, a seasoned team like we are, and we’ll see who got better since the first time we played.”— Marquette baseball coach Todd Hopkins
Against a team that had posted lopsided 15-1 and 13-3 victories over the Irish in the last 10 days, Cruise was excellent, striking out eight, walking two and surrendering just five hits, one of those being his lone real mistake of the day: a fastball that MA’s Brady Ewers hit for a solo home run in the fourth inning to break the scoreless battle. Defensive lapses contributed heavily to a three-run fifth frame that proved pivotal.
But as good as Cruise was, Waldron was just a little bit better. In his distance effort, he permitted just one earned run, four hits — the two singles in the home fifth by Cruise and Tyler Sulzberger accounting for the Irish run — and one walk while striking out nine.
The only other runner to get as far as second base was Cole Underhill, who doubled with two out in the last of the seventh.
“The curveball’s been working pretty good this year, so I kept throwing it,” said Taylor Waldron, who threw 106 pitches, five more than Cruise. “Their 1-4 hitters have been hitting pretty well, so I worked on them. Having seen them twice already, I did my best to take advantage of what I knew.”
“Taylor threw a really, really good game,” said Marquette coach Todd Hopkins, his club now 14-2 on the year. “He made a couple of good pitches early in the game that they, to their credit, managed to hit to the right spot. He got a little tired at the end, and the last out was his last hitter, but he finished it.
“The Cruise kid is pretty good. He throws 85, 86 (miles per hour), has a good deuce (curveball), and he was spotting it up pretty well. Give him credit … but Brady hit one pretty good, and that got us going. We didn’t string a lot of hits together, we left too many guys in scoring position and we looked at too many pitches today. We have to do a better job of that … but now we have Hall, a seasoned team like we are, and we’ll see who got better since the first time we played.”
The Cru left four runners on base in the first three innings, but didn’t break through against Cruise until Brady Ewers unloaded a towering shot over the fence in left for the game’s initial run.
In the next inning, a walk to No. 9 hitter Jake Thomas started the decisive rally. With one out, Logan Nelson slammed a deep flyball to the fence in left, and it fell in for an RBI double. He was thrown out trying for third after the throw home, but a single by Luke Couch, a walk to Beau Ewers and a double steal kept it alive. Couch scored on a wild pitch, and Ewers crossed when Shane Reynolds’ grounder was misplayed.
That was all Waldron needed to edge Cruise on the day.
“This is the 10th year here for Coach (assistant Dan) McCarthy and I, and Matt’s was one of the gutsiest regional performances we’ve had here in those 10 years,” said Seneca coach Tim Brungard. “He commanded the zone and kept it just a really good high school pitchers’ duel. …
“When (Ewers) hit the home run, Matt came off the field and said, ‘That’s just one. We’ve got this,’ so he was still very much in it. The key to the game was that we made a few mistakes, and Marquette didn’t make mistakes. We gave them a couple of runs or it might have been a 1-1 game going into the seventh.
“Credit them, but I still give credit to our guys, too. After the two games last week we lost to them by big margins, to come out and lose just 4-1 to a very, very good team that will now compete for a regional title, I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”