Baseball: Marengo’s record season ends with regional final upset loss to Stillman Valley

Cardinals’ senior lefty Braden Engel throws 113-pitch gem in 11-4 win

No. 4 seed Stillman Valley poses with the Class 2A Marengo Regional title plaque, after upsetting No. 1 seed Marengo, 11-4.

MARENGO — Stillman Valley senior lefty Braden Engel spent much of last offseason strengthening his arm after battling through elbow issues a year ago.

But there certainly wasn’t an issue with that same elbow on Saturday, when he tossed a 113-pitch gem in the Class 2A Marengo Regional championship game.

The end product was a commanding 11-4 upset victory for the No. 4 seed Cardinals over No. 1 seed Marengo, as Engel lasted 6⅔ innings before being replaced due to the IHSA’s postseason pitch count rules.

“The arm feels amazing,” Engel said, moments after hoisting the Class 2A title plaque with teammates near home plate. “But not as amazing as getting to experience a regional title with my friends in my final season.”

Engel allowed four runs and eight hits, while walking three and striking out seven. He also had three 1-2-3 innings, in the first, second and fourth innings.

The outcome was in stark contrast to the previous time the two teams met earlier this season, which resulted in a 1-0 Stillman Valley shutout.

This time, nine different Cardinals players reached base safely, giving Engel more than enough run support.

Stillman leadoff hitter Keanan McDevitt (2 for 5, RBI) led the game off with a double into the right-center field gap, and was sent home to score two batters later on Engel’s RBI single.

Two hitters later, Ryan Rueff scored Engel with an RBI single of his own, and the Cardinals’ offense, which produced 14 hits, was off and running.

“This was the second time we’ve faced Marengo’s starting pitcher (Michael Kirchoff),” Stillman coach Scott Wilhite said. “So we kind of knew what to expect. We knew how hard he threw. What kinds of pitches to expect.

“Plus, the first time we faced them, it was cold out and the wind was blowing in. Our bats got hot at the right time today. I can’t say enough about the job our hitters did.”

Stillman (22-12) scored four more times in the top of the third. Engel (3 for 4, 3 RBIs) helped his own cause with his second of three RBI singles on the day, and No. 8 hitter Jaxon Barrett drove home a pair with a single of his own.

To its credit, Marengo responded with three runs a half-inning later. A Quinn Lechner sacrifice fly, followed by RBI singles from Robert Heuser and David Lopez, cut a 6-0 0 lead in half, at 6-3.

But that’s as close as the Indians could get.

The Cardinals then tallied the next five runs, ending Marengo’s season, which included a program record 23 victories.

Marengo No. 9 hitter Alten Bergbreiter went 3 for 3, scoring two of the Indians’ four runs, in the loss.

“We had six seniors on this team, and they’ve each meant the world to me and to this school,” Marengo coach Nick Naranjo said. “Andrew Johnson was a four-year varsity starter who holds the career and single-season RBI records here at Marengo.

“And Cody (Stallings) was a three-year varsity player. We obviously would’ve preferred a different ending to this season, but their players executed today, and we weren’t able to. So credit to their guys, and to their pitcher, who threw a great game and kept us off balance.”

Marengo also won back-to-back Kishwaukee River Conference titles last season and season, and could contend for the KRC title next season, too.

“We have a lot of juniors with experience coming back a year from now,” Naranjo said. “So I’m very optimistic about what’s ahead of us still. We’re definitely not rebuilding this offseason, it’s gonna be a re-tool.”

Stillman advances to face Newman, in a Class 2A Byron Sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Cardinals senior catcher and cleanup hitter Keaton Rauman thinks his team still has more left in the tank.

“Why not us?” Rauman said. “I don’t see a limit on what we can do if we play with the kind of energy and focus we did today.”

His coach agreed.

“We might have a run in us, and today is a huge boost to our confidence,” Wilhite added. “The thing I like about this team is, we have played in 12 one-run games. So we’re used to the pressure. We know what to expect and how to react when the game is on the line.

“We’ll see where this journey takes us. That’s gonna largely be up to these kids, who continue to meet and exceed our expectations.”

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