Baseball: Newman’s Bushman, Tunink pitch Comets to Sweet 16 for 4th straight year

Newman beats Stillman Valley 7-2 to advance to Saturday’s sectional final

Newman baseball celebrates their 7-2 win over Stillman Valley Wednesday, May 22, 2024 in the Class 2A sectional semifinal in Byron.

BYRON – Newman senior Brendan Tunink has been a not-so-secret weapon on the mound this postseason.

With hopes of having his named called in this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, the returning Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team pitcher and center fielder threw only a handful of innings during the regular season.

It hasn’t resulted in any rust.

Tunink showed why he’s garnered the attention of MLB scouts in Wednesday’s Class 2A Byron Sectional semifinal, pitching a hitless final three innings with five strikeouts in second-seeded Newman’s 7-2 win over fourth-seeded Stillman Valley.

Newman advances to play third-seeded North Boone in the sectional final at 11 a.m. Saturday. It is the fourth straight year the Comets (23-4-1) have reached the Sweet 16, the first in Class 2A.

Sophomore starting pitcher Evan Bushman (10-0) got the win Wednesday, locking in after the Comets fell behind 2-1 in the second inning via a Kaenan McDevitt two-run single. Bushman pitched four innings, allowing two runs on five hits and one walk, striking out three.

“After I gave them the lead, I just needed to lock in and get us into a good position to bring Brendan in,” Bushman said. “Because whenever Brendan comes in, that’s kind of when the game shuts down for the other team. I just try to do my job and keep us within one.”

Tunink was 1 for 2 with three walks and two runs scored as five different Comets had RBIs.

“We play seven [innings], we don’t play two,” Tunink said after the comeback win. “No matter the ups and downs, we stay through and we play seven innings.”

Bushman retired seven straight Cardinals after Stillman Valley scored twice to grab a 2-1 lead. Newman took advantage of a Stillman Valley error to start the fifth inning as it scored three runs on three hits and a walk.

Newman coach Kenny Koerner said his team’s at-bats got better as the game went on. Stillman Valley starter Aiden Cicogna struck out seven in six innings, allowing five runs (one earned) on seven hits and four walks.

Koerner said Bushman did his job before Tunink shut things down.

“Brendan’s got a lot bigger things ahead of him with the Major League draft coming up, so we were really trying to protect Brennan’s arm all year long,” Koerner said. “And now we’re using him at that closer role, and he’s a pretty nice weapon to have at the end of the game.”

Newman’s Brendan Tunink fires a pitch against Stillman Valley Wednesday, May 22, 2024 in the Class 2A sectional semifinal in Byron.

Tunink pitched three scoreless innings, allowing no hits and striking out six in Newman’s 6-2 win over Rock Falls for the regional title.

Stillman Valley coach Scott Wilhite said things got away after the error that led to the team losing the lead.

“We played well for the most part, but you know baseball; sometimes that happens,” he said.

Wilhite was proud of how the team played down the stretch to win a regional title.

“These kids did a great job,” he said. “Earlier in the year, we were kind of up and down, struggling, not hitting all the time, but we kind of figured things out about three or four weeks ago. ... It just culminated in a really nice end of the season, notwithstanding this game, obviously.”

For Newman, the Comets have embraced playing up a class after finishing third in the state last year in 1A.

“It shows a lot of people that we can’t just do it in 1A, we can do it 2A, so it means a lot to us,” Tunink said. “We know we’re top dogs out here, so we’re just trying to prove that we can compete every day.”

“I think the up a class thing doesn’t matter,” Bushman said. “I think we’re on a roll and I think we’re in a great groove and we’re going to keep it up.”

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Drake Lansman

Drake Lansman

Drake has been a sports reporter with Sauk Valley Media/Shaw Local since May of 2024. He is a Bettendorf native who graduated from Iowa State University. Drake previously covered sports in the Quad Cities area for nine years.