ROCKFORD – The postseason seems a bit late for a player to take on a vastly different role with their team, but Richmond-Burton senior Kaden Neuman has embraced his new job and is thriving with it.
The Rockets’ second baseman and former closer turned in another outstanding starting performance Monday, combining with Joseph Mrowiec for a one-hitter as R-B defeated Timothy Christian, 10-0, in the Class 2A Rockford Rivets Supersectional.
“My teammates kept supporting me and I pounded the zone and kept going,” said Neuman, who was making his fourth start of the season. “I love (starting) It’s fun. Just getting comfortable and get going.”
R-B (31-5) advanced to the state tournament for the first time since it made the 2006 Class A quarterfinals. The Rockets face the winner between Maroa-Forsyth in Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal at Peoria’s Dozer Park. The Trojans defeated Monticello, 4-3, in eight innings Monday for the Springfield Lincoln Land Community College Supersectional on Monday.
R-B coach Mike Giese pulled Neuman with one out in the sixth because he was at 72 pitches. Now, Giese can use either Mrowiec or Neuman on Friday.
“Kaden was our reliever early in the year. Ethan Fischer tore a ligament in his (left) arm and will have to have Tommy John, so we have him DH’ing,” Giese said. “We had to move the lineup around and threw him into the last rotation the last two weeks. He’s been dealing. He shut down Rockford Christian for 6 1/3 innings. He has a tremendous upside. He’s a gamer.”
R-B jumped on top of Timothy Christian (21-8) in the first when Hayden Christianen tripled and scored on Neuman’s ground out. The Trojans had their best scoring opportunity in the first inning when Neuman issued a walk and hit two batters, loading the bases with one out.
But Neuman got a strikeout and right fielder Ethan Schoeps made a sliding catch on Jake Armstrong’s fly ball to end the inning.
“It’s always big to get out of a bases-loaded jam. It’s a long game though, that inning didn’t define our game,” Timothy Christian coach Brian Whartnaby said. “We just didn’t play our game in every way, physically, mentally, especially at the plate. We looked at our good pitches to hit and we swung at his good pitches he was trying to execute. That was kind of the story, besides errors.”
Timothy Christian had three other runners reach base the rest of the game. None of them got past first.
“It’s always big to get out of a bases-loaded jam. It’s a long game though, that inning didn’t define our game,”Whartnaby said. “We just didn’t play our game in every way, physically, mentally, especially at the plate. We looked at our good pitches to hit and we swung at his good pitches he was trying to execute. That was kind of the story, besides errors.”
Armstrong bounced a single up the middle for the Trojans’ lone hit in the fourth.
“(Neuman) rocked it. It’s a stadium, a big game, you’re always going to have those nerves,” said Christiansen, who was catching Neuman. “One thing Kaden does is he goes out there and he’s as cool as a cucumber. He might be a little jitterish at first and take a little while to settle in, but once he’s in, he’s in.
“There’s no stopping him. He has a lot of composure on the mound. In that bases-loaded situation, I did not see him do anything but challenge the hitter.”
Neuman also started off a big R-B fourth which broke the game open with a triple to the left-field fence. Mrowiec singled him in, then Brock Wood and Fischer also drove in runs.
Neuman finished 2 for 3 with two RBIs and Jason Miller was 3 for 4 with a double. Neuman struck out six in 5 1/3 innings and Mrowiec tacked on three more in his 1 2/3 innings.
“We got a good batting order. Anytime we have an inning like that it gives our pitcher more comfort,” Wallace said of R-B’s big fourth inning. “It sets us up beautifully. Kaden he pitched outstanding. I love him. That’s my guy. I’m proud of him.
“He came out of the pen all year long and once Ethan had his injury, we bumped him up he’s taken that role and run with it. He’s become one of our strongest pitchers.”
Whartnaby was disappointed in the way the Trojans’ season ended. Timothy Christian, Class 2A state runner-up last year, started its season 1-4 and was 20-4 since spring break, with several close postseason wins.
“We had a lot of good things happen this year,” Whartnaby said. “This is one of our worst games played, bad timing. We had a lot of guys step up and usually played good baseball. We won a lot of close games in the playoffs to get here.
“I’m really proud of these guys. We’re graduating some key seniors, but we’re only graduating four seniors. We’ll have a lot of experience coming back.”