WARREN – Some early power hitting and the ability to work out of jams helped Newman build an early lead in a Class 1A baseball sectional semifinal at Warren-Stockton on Wednesday. A six-run top of the seventh helped remove all doubt as the Comets beat the WarHawks 12-3.
With the win, Newman will host Aquin for the sectional title on Friday.
Newman’s big blast came off the bat of Jake Ackman, who broke a 1-1 tie in the second with a three-run homer to right.
“All year I’ve been made fun of as a warning-track guy,” he said. “I’ve put a couple over the fence, but honestly I just knew if I could barrel it up, looking for a base hit, never looking for a home run, but right when it got off the bat I knew it had a chance.”
Newman added a run in the third when Kyle Wolfe singled to drive in Brennan Cook, and one in the fourth when Cook drew a bases-loaded walk to force home Ackman.
But the Comets (16-8) saved the biggest inning for last. Entering the final frame up 6-3, the Comets sent 10 batters to the plate in the seventh, scoring six runs off of four hits. Ackman sparked the scoring in that inning as well, driving in Kory Mullen with a one-out single.
Two more runs scored when a sharp grounder off the bat of Blake Wolfe was too sharp for WarHawks second baseman Ian Broshous to handle.
But the biggest hit was the last one, as Cook came up with the bases loaded and unloaded a double to right-center to make it 12-3.
“I knew we needed a big hit,” Cook said. “We were up by a good amount, but we needed insurance runs. I think we got a good hit right up the center, and it cleared the bases.”
The offense was coming from everywhere on the Newman lineup. Eight of the nine batters had a least one hit. All nine reached base at least once. Six stepped on home plate at least once. Cook, the No. 7 hitter, went 2-for-3 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch, and he scored twice. At No. 8, Grant Koerner had a pair of hits and a sacrifice bunt. No. 9 hitter Mullen scored a run, singled, and reached on an error and a walk.
“I told my guys, every single inning, every single at-bat,” Ackman said. “Bottom of the order has been huge all regional for us. You saw Grant Koerner and Kory Mullen get those hits to start it, Brennan Cook comes up with a three-run double. When you can hit one through nine, you’re going to have a good game.”
Both teams scored in the first, Newman getting on the board when Nolan Britt doubled to drive in Ackman, Warren-Stockton answering when Caleb Mammoser’s sacrifice fly to center scored Broshous.
But in both cases, the first inning could have been much more productive. Kyle Wolfe led off the top of the inning by lacing a double down the right-field line, but got doubled off second when Ethan Van Landuit’s rocketed line drive was snagged out of the air by Broshous. The WarHawks turned a nearly identical 4-6 double play in the fifth as Broshous snagged a liner from Ackman and doubled off Mullen.
“He’s our fastest player, and I think he had three hits,” WarHawks coach James Nielsen said. “Monday he was 3-for-3. He was a really good player and can play anyplace on the infield. That first one, he jumped and then it seemed like he got another six inches to catch it. It was a really nice play.”
In the bottom of the first, the WarHawks loaded the bases with no one out, but a strikeout and a grounder to short limited Warren-Stockton to just the one run off the sac fly.
Missed opportunities proved to be a recurring theme for the WarHawks. Though getting an RBI single from Austin Chumbler in the second to score Owen Logemann, they couldn’t score any more when, with the bases loaded, a wild pitch caromed off the short backstop and Mason Neff had wandered too far off the bag at third, allowing Van Landuit to pick him off.
Newman starter Elias Henkel also made sure a leadoff double in the third amounted to nothing, getting a fly ball, strikeout and groundout to work out of the jam. A two-out walk in the fourth led to nothing, and an error to lead off the fifth led to nothing.
By the time Henkel left the game after the fifth, he had allowed two runs on eight hits, striking out five and walking three.
“Elias Henkel is a senior, and we always say it’s hard to knock a senior out at tournament time,” Newman coach Kenny Koerner said. “He grinded through. He didn’t have his best stuff today. He’s been much better, but he battled.”
The WarHawks did add a run in the sixth with a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, but Comets reliever Kyle Wolfe worked out of that jam with limited damage thanks to a strikeout.
In the bottom of the seventh, the WarHawks again got runners on thanks to an error and a single, but another strikeout ended the game.
“For whatever reason, all season we’ve been scoring runs, but in the regional championship [a 3-1 win against Orangeville] we scored three runs and left tons of runners in scoring position; 13 of our 20 at-bats after our first hitter with men in scoring position and we struggled and couldn’t get them in,” Nielsen said. “And that followed us today. We have some good hitters that had key hits, and we had some of them up in the spots that we needed.”
Newman also had an inning where one run could have been many. In the fourth, the Comets loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a single by Blake Wolfe, and Cook drew a bases-loaded walk to force in Ackman, but a popup in front of the plate left three stranded.
Warren-Stockton finishes its season 21-2, with the only other loss coming early in the season to East Dubuque, part of a split doubleheader when Stockton football was still playing, so the WarHawks were without several key players.
Newman moves on to the sectional final in hopes of a first trip to supersectional. The last Comets’ team in 2019 also reached a sectional final before falling to River Ridge. This one comes against an NUIC foe as well, with Aquin having beaten Eastland 8-2 on Wednesday.
Ackman expects that matchup to come down to “defense and pitching, like it has been all year, and timely hitting. We saw against Fulton, we hit the ball really well and they just didn’t get down, there was a chance we would’ve lost that came, but defense and pitching kept us in it.”