Baseball: Henry to rely on pitching, defense in IHSA state semifinal

Mallards hope to produce more runs against Newman

Henry-Senachwine's Preston Rowe makes a catch in left field against Milton during the Class 1A Supersectional game on Monday, May 29, 2023 at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.

For the first time in three decades, the Henry-Senachwine baseball team will play at the state tournament.

For the first time ever, a Mallards team will bring home a state trophy.

And the residents of Henry are excited about it.

“There’s definitely a buzz around town,” Henry coach Max Kirbach said. “The phone has been ringing off the hook, and everybody’s been super excited in town. You walk around and people are yelling congratulations. It’s been a really cool atmosphere.”

The Mallards (22-6) will play Newman (22-8) in the second Class 1A State semifinal at noon Friday at Dozer Park in Peoria.

Henry advanced to state with a 3-2 win over Milford in the Illinois Wesleyan University Supersectional, while the Comets earned their first state berth with a 3-2 win over Chicago Hope in the Rockford Supersectional.

“Looking at their stats, it looks like they’re a very strong team, a really good hitting team,” Kirbach said. “They have one particularly really good hitter in the lineup who’s hit 17 home runs, so we’re going to have to pitch him selective and play a little strategy.”

Newman’s big hitter is junior Brendan Tunink, who is hitting .325 with 17 home runs, two triples, six doubles, 51 runs scored and 47 RBIs.

Other strong offensive weapons for the Comets are Jaesen Johns (.284, 9 2B, 29 RBIs, 10 R), Garret Matznick (.254, 6 2B, 38 R, 13 RBI), Joe Oswalt (.337, 26 RBIs, 18 R), Garet Wolfe (.272, 19 RBIs, 18 R) and Kyle Wolfe (.348, 29 R, 15 RBIs).

The Mallards have used strong pitching and solid defense during their postseason run, allowing only four runs in five playoff games with two shutouts. The 3-2 supersectional win was the first time Henry gave up more than one run since May 6, a streak of seven games.

“Our pitchers need to hit their spots, and the defense needs to be on like they have been all season,” Kirbach said.

Henry’s No. 2 pitcher, Mason Johnson, will start against the Comets.

This season, Johnson is 6-1 with a 1.92 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 24 walks in 62 innings.

He tossed a complete game in Henry’s 6-1 win over Heyworth in the sectional final, allowing one unearned run on seven hits with six strikeouts and a walk.

“[I expect] what he’s done all year,” Kirbach said. “He hits his spots and mixes up his pitches to try to keep them off balance. Hopefully, we can get some weak ground balls or easy pop flies.”

Carson Rowe (23 IP, 0.91 ERA, 23 K, 1 BB), Zach Barnes (8 IP, 1.75 ERA, 6 K, 9 BB) and Colton Williams (6 1/3 IP, 2.43 ERA, 7 K, 1 BB) are available to come on in relief.

Newman’s ace is Tunink (10-0, 59 IP, 1.07 ERA, 98 K, 21 BB), but he pitched 6 2/3 innings in the supersectional.

Newman’s Kyle Wolfe is 8-1 with a 1.40 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 13 walks in 55 innings, while Nolan Britt is 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 27 walks in 28 innings.

Lance Kiesewetter is Henry’s top hitter and is batting .400 with four home runs, nine doubles, 29 RBIs and 22 runs scored, while catcher Colton Williams is hitting .388 with two home runs, 14 doubles, 22 RBIs and 10 runs scored.

Other top performers for the Mallards are Mason Guarnieri (.317, 23 R, 11 RBIs), Preston Rowe (.279, 23 R, 9 RBIs), Carson Rowe (.288, 4 2B, 21 RBIs, 9 R) and Mason Johnson (.200, 25 R).

“I think we’re going to have to produce a few more runs than we typically have,” Kirbach said. “I think it’s going to take at least six runs to win this one. The bats just have to get going. We have to square it up and hit it to the right spots. We’ll have a mixture of hopefully putting the bat on the ball, and if we need to do a little small ball here and there, hopefully we’ll execute.”

Goreville (25-13) and Gibault Catholic (22-14) meet in the first semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday.