BLOOMINGTON – Fans of pop music know well the Meatloaf phrase “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Sadly, fans of Marquette Academy baseball know it extremely well now, too.
The Crusaders matched highly-regarded Normal U-High virtually pitch for pitch and hit for hit for seven innings of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Class 2A Supersectional on Monday night, but the third of the game’s most important aspects – defense – proved their Achilles heel.
The Pioneers took advantage of three Marquette errors and three walks by sophomore starter Taylor Waldron, adding in three hits to score a whopping eight runs in the second inning alone, then used the solid pitching of University of Illinois commit Jake Swarz and reliever Charlie Vercruysse to defeat the Crusaders, 9-2, at Jack Horenberger Field.
U-High (31-3) now will play either Freeburg or Harrisburg, whichever wins the Carbondale Supersectional, at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the state semifinals.
Marquette (17-3), in its first action on the field since winning the 2019 Class 1A championship, sees another standout season end in the 2A Elite Eight.
“But when we came up from 1A to 2A, no one expected us to do anything like this. What these kids accomplished this year, making that jump and getting this close, it was great … I’m super proud of the effort of our kids this year. It was unbelievable.”
— Marquette Academy coach Todd Hopkins
“We knew coming in that we’d have to play pretty much a flawless game to compete with them and in that one inning things obviously didn’t go our way,” said Marquette coach Todd Hopkins of his program’s seventh supersectional appearance. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, and that inning hurt. But hey, tip your hat to U-High. With kids going to the University of Illinois, Notre Dame, Iowa, and I’m sure a few others who will end up at D-I schools, they have a helluva team.
“But when we came up from 1A to 2A no one expected us to do anything like this. What these kids accomplished this year, making that jump and getting this close, it was great. I’m super proud of the effort of our kids this year. It was unbelievable.”
The first of four Marquette miscues on the day helped U-High load the bases in the first inning against Waldron, but he got out of it on a nice running catch by right fielder Jake Thomas.
But in the decisive top of the second it started poorly and snowballed downhill from there. Evan Kochel walked and Matt Davenport reached when his sacrifice bunt was thrown wide of first base. One out later, Notre Dame signee Karson Bonaparte clubbed a fly to the outfield that fell between two Crusaders, scoring the game’s first run.
After that, a fielders choice, an RBI single by Evan Jones, an error, a bases-loaded walk, a run-scoring single by Kochel and finally, a two-run hit by Matt Armstrong capped the nightmare frame against the Crusaders.
Marquette got a run back in the home half when Grant Waldron reached on an error and, after a single by Shane Reynolds, scored on an errant U-High throw trying for a double play. Marquette added another run in the third on Nick Melvin’s second hit of the game and an RBI double by Luke Couch.
Other than that, Marquette managed only one other hit, a fourth-inning single by Hayden McKenna against Swarz, who was hitting 92 miles an hour on the gun in the first few innings, but according to Pioneers coach Steve Paxson, had better command of his breaking pitches as that velocity fell.
“You’re not going to score many runs against Jake when he’s like that,” Paxson said. “I felt going into the postseason that if we could score four runs our pitching would be able to hold us steady as long as we played sound defensively. When you have a kid like Jake Swarz on the mound it gives your team a lot of confidence that if we get to four, we’re in really good shape. Getting eight is really more than a coach could ask for. Putting pressure on the defense, was a real key.”
Waldron fanned four, walked four and surrendered only five hits. Aiden Thompson came on for the final three innings to strike out two and allow one run and one hit.
“Today, I know we were chasing the entire game, but I felt our pitchers threw really well,” Hopkins said. “Taylor kept his composure when things weren’t going his way with our defense, then Aiden came in and threw well. We had some good at-bats, too, five hits. I thought coming in if we’d get that many, we’d have a shot in a 3-1, 3-2 ballgame.
“People were writing us off, coming from 1A to 2A, and we knocked off some monsters in 2A to get here. This game was supposed to be U-High and Manteno, and we wrecked that party, too, so I’m proud of them. Really proud.”