STILLMAN VALLEY – Richmond-Burton pitcher Joseph Mrowiec said that after escaping an intense seventh inning against Rockford Christian, he knew the Rockets were going to prevail in extra innings.
Had Mrowiec shared that sentiment with R-B’s fans, it might have eased a few minds, since the Rockets’ squandering of a six-run lead in the seventh led to another hour of highly dramatic baseball.
“Once we got past the bottom of the seventh, I knew we were going to win that game,” Mrowiec said. “A couple of seniors talked every once in a while, and we kept picking each other up. This is probably the best game we’ve played all year. We just came back and really picked each other up.”
Mrowiec threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter Kaden Neuman, who was outstanding through 6 1/3. And eventually, Hayden Christiansen, who was 0 for 5 when he went to bat in the 10th inning, delivered the big shot.
Christiansen’s RBI triple ignited a four-run 10th and R-B held on for a 10-6, 10-inning victory Wednesday in the Class 2A Stillman Valley Sectional semifinal. The Rockets (29-5) advance to Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship against either Byron or Aurora Central Catholic, who meet in the other semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but they kept their wits about them,” R-B coach Mike Giese said. “They played their guts out. Rockford Christian, hat’s off to them, they played well, good comeback. It was whoever made the last mistake. We were fortunate.”
R-B played a clean, efficient game into the bottom of the seventh, leading 6-0, when rain forced a stoppage of about 10 minutes.
Neuman had been strong on the mound and started the seventh with 75 pitches. The Royal Lions’ Andrew Flynn doubled off the center-field fence, and suddenly Rockford Christian had a little spark.
Rockford Christian (17-7) added six more hits and, with the aid of an error, tied the score. Mrowiec walked two batters to load the bases, but got a strikeout to send the game to extra innings.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the eighth. R-B’s Ethan Schoeps led off the ninth with a double, but was stranded. The Royal Lions got runners to second and third in the bottom of the ninth with two walks and a wild pitch. With one out, Mrowiec retired the side on a pair of called third strikes.
“It definitely felt good,” Mrowiec said. “I got them both on curveballs. They were toward the bottom of the order and they weren’t going to swing.”
Connor Wallace led off the 10th with a walk, and Christiansen, who will play at NCAA Division I Xavier, lined a tripled to the right-field fence. He scored on a wild pitch, and R-B added two more runs on walks and wild pitches.
“There’s never been a situation where I felt overmatched or I felt down on myself,” Christiansen said. “I went in thinking the same thing I do every at-bat, hit the ball where it’s pitched. I’ve felt confident in the box every single time.
“It felt awesome. I give it to our team and our pitcher who went out and competed out there.”
Flynn, who battled R-B hard for five innings, reached 95 pitches, about 45 more than his longest outing this season.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a bulldog,” Royal Lions coach Mike Mather said. “What he did today is what he’s been doing all year.
“This is my second year, and from where we started to where we are now, this team has just matured. They constantly support each other and I’m super-proud of this team.”
R-B, which set its school record for wins, now has reached the sectional championship game in back-to-back seasons.
“It was a lot of momentum shifts. It was fun to watch,” Giese said. “Obviously, it was a little more fun because we won. Our seniors really, really, really, really wanted to get back to the sectional final.
“Last year, they felt like we were the best team [and lost in the title game]. For them to claw their way back is a big deal for them. It’s a special win.”
Class 2A Stillman Valley Sectional Semifinal
Richmond-Burton 10, Rockford Christian 6 (10 inn.)
Richmond-Burton 010 031 100 4 – 10 9 2
Rockford Christian 000 000 600 0 – 6 12 1
WP: Joseph Mrowiec (3.1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 4BB, 3K). LP: Andrew Flynn (5IP, 4H, 6R, 6ER, 5BB, 3K).
Top hitters–Richmond-Burton: Connor Wallace 1-2 (3B, RBI, 2R), Hayden Christiansen 1-6 (3B, RBI, R), Kaden Neuman 1-3 (RBI, R), Joseph Mrowiec 2-4 (2R), Jason Miller 1-3 (RBI), Ethan Demers 2-4 (2RBIs). Rockford Christian: Eli Varble 1-4 (2B, RBI, R), Andrew Flynn 1-4 (2B, R), Isaac Oldenburg 2-4, Simeon Hanson 2-3 (R).