LANARK – It’s good to be the king, and on Wednesday for the Aquin baseball team, it was good to be Clay Luedeking.
One swing of the bat went a long way toward pushing the Bulldogs to an 8-2 victory against Eastland in a Class 1A sectional semifinal on the Cougars’ home field in Lanark.
Aquin (15-4) will visit Newman on Friday at 4:30 for a sectional championship. The Comets beat Warren 12-3 in their sectional semi.
Aquin trailed 1-0 entering the top of the third inning, but had its first two batters in that frame, Ty Stykel and Evan Broge, reach with a single and a walk, respectively.
After Oliver Arndt struck out, Stykel was erased on a fielder’s choice, which brought Luedeking to plate. With a 1-2 count against Eastland starter Owen Rogers, Luedeking got a hold of a fastball on the outer third of the plate and deposited it well over the fence in right to give his team a 3-1 lead.
It was Luedeking’s fourth home run this season.
“I wasn’t really looking to hit a home run,” Luedeking said. “I was just looking to hit a base hit because with a 1-2 count, you’re really looking to protect the plate. I was just looking to hit the ball, put it in play, make a decent play on the ball and hope to get on base.
“… When I hit that, I looked at it and I knew it was gone. It was so high up in the air. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere but out.”
Aquin added runs late to put the game out of reach. Brennan Carlson’s two-out, two-run double highlighted a three-run sixth inning.
Stykel had run-scoring base hits in the sixth and seventh innings. Broge added a sacrifice fly in the seventh to give the Bulldogs an 8-2 lead.
Stykel (8-2), meanwhile, kept a hard-hitting Eastland team at bay most of the game. He gave up two runs (one earned), nine hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts. He threw 104 pitches, and 72 of those were for strikes.
“The heat makes me feel better,” Stykel said. “It helps me get into a better rhythm, so the heat was definitely a factor in my play. I was painting the outside corner with my fastball, and my curveball, I was hitting the outside corner too. I’d say hitting the outside corner was big.”
Eastland (14-5) scored an unearned run in the first inning. Drew Burkholder reached on a two-out throwing error by Aquin third baseman Aiden Wolfe, and was able to advance to second base on the play. Kellen Henze followed with an RBI single.
The Cougars stranded two runners in the third and fifth innings before having the makings of a big inning in the sixth. Wyatt Baber led off with a single, Max McCullough walked with one out, and Cason Witt singled to load the bases.
Carson Heckman singled to drive in Baber, bringing Rogers to the plate. He hit a liner to left that was gloved by Luedeking, and he fired the ball to second baseman Carlson to double-up Witt.
Henze doubled with two outs in the seventh to keep Eastland’s faint hopes alive. The game ended when Baber popped out to Hayden Neuendorf at first base.
The Cougars stranded eight base runners, as they couldn’t connect for big hits against Stykel.
“I’ve been playing travel ball with him since he was 10 years old,” Burkholder said. “He’s a heck of a ballplayer. I knew what he had, and he had me in some shaky situations. He’s a heck of a pitcher – you can’t take anything from him. Our team, we just weren’t quite ready for him.”
Rogers (5-2) took the loss for Eastland. He allowed six earned runs, eight hits, five walks and hit one batter in 5 2/3 innings, with five strikeouts. Witt went the last 1 1/3 and allowed two earned runs, three hits and a walk.
1A sectional semifinal
Aquin 8, Eastland 2
Star of the game: Ty Stykel, Aquin, 7 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 9 H, 8 SO; 3-for-5, 2 RBI, R