The Mallards (22-6) hail from Marshall County and are part of the Tri-County Conference. They’re currently riding an eight-game winning streak; before their last loss on May 6, they had won 10 of 11 games.
Shortly after the supersectional win Monday, Newman coaches started gathering some intel on their semifinal opponent.
“We got back Monday and reached out to some contacts throughout the area that we know and got some good information on them,” coach Kenny Koerner said. “They’ve got a couple guys who swing the bat pretty well, sounds like they like to play small-ball and move the ball a little bit.”
The pitching matchup looks to be Newman senior Kyle Wolfe against Henry-Senachwine senior Mason Johnson. Wolfe has a 1.40 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks in 55 innings pitched, while Johnson has a 1.92 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 24 walks in 62 innings.
Neither is a fireballer, and both rely on hitting their spots and allowing the defense to make plays behind them.
“It looks like we’ll get their No. 2 [starter]. He’s a lefty, not a lot of velocity, has good off-speed. Their No. 1 is out of pitches, so it’s going to be a battle there of two guys really having to locate and throw the ball off-speed a little bit on Friday,” Kerner said. “Kyle is ready for Friday. [Brendan] Tunink can be ready Saturday; he’s out of pitches for Friday. So both No. 1′s are down Friday, so it’ll be a battle between everybody else.”
Lance Kiesewetter is the leading offensive weapon for the Mallards. He’s hitting .400 (28 for 70) with nine doubles, four home tuns, 29 RBIs and 22 runs scored. Colton Williams is hitting .388 (31 for 80) with 14 doubles, two homers, 22 RBIs and 10 runs, and Mason Guarnieri is hitting .317 (19 for 60) with a double, two triples, 11 RBIs and 23 runs.
Carson Rowe (.288, 21 RBIs), Preston Rowe (.279, 23 runs) and Zachary Barnes (.278, 11 RBIs) will also provide a challenge for Wolfe.
Both teams have relied on pitching and defense all year, and Wolfe says the Comets’ strategy is to stick with that game plan again this weekend.
“We’ve been talking all year, saying pitch and play defense – when we do that, we’re in a good spot – and score five runs,” Wolfe said. “So that’s our goal every game, regardless of who we’re playing, is to pitch well and field the ball and get one out, then the next. Then go up and try to put five runs on the scoreboard. If we do that, we’re in a good spot when it comes to the end of the game.”
Newman, which has won its last 11 games, has had a pretty potent offense for much of the season, led by Notre Dame commit Tunink. The junior is hitting .325 (38 for 117) with six doubles, two triples, 17 home runs, 47 RBIs and 51 runs scored; he’s also been intentionally walked more than any player in the area.
When teams do that, though, seniors Jaesen Johns and Nolan Britt have a habit of making them pay. Johns is hitting .284 (31 for 109) with nine doubles, a triple, a home run and 29 RBIs, while Britt has added five doubles, a triple, 19 RBIs and 28 runs scored.
Wolfe is hitting .348 (40 for 115) with three doubles, 15 RBIs and 29 runs, and Garret Matznick (.254, 6 doubles, 13 RBIs, 38 runs) has been a strong table-setter at the top of the lineup. Joe Oswalt has a .337 average (30 for 89) with three doubles, 26 RBIs and 18 runs, while Garet Wolfe (.272, 19 RBIs, 18 runs) and Daniel Kelly (16 RBIs) have been solid at the bottom of the order.
Koerner credits the bottom half of the batting order as making the difference in the postseason, and the addition of Kelly in the No. 9 spot since his return from a wrestling injury about a third of the way into the season has solidified the lineup. The Comets trust everyone in the order and the field to do their jobs.
“It’s really, really big to have a lot of trust in everybody in this lineup and on the field. It’s such a big boost of confidence, and makes you feel like you can get it done in any situation,” Johns said.
The key all season has been the Comets’ businesslike approach once they get on the diamond. No matter the site or the opponent, Newman (22-8) has always been able to focus on just playing the game and blocking out everything else.
“A lot of these guys are battle-tested; even our freshmen have played a lot of baseball throughout their lives at some high levels. So it’s a really good group that doesn’t seem to let things get to them,” Koerner said. “For us, we try to talk about one game at a time, so we try not to even look at the other two teams on the other side of the bracket. It’s all focused right now on Henry, and what we can do to beat them. I think we’ll prepare with two really good days of practice again, and I think we’ll be ready. The seniors and Tunink do a really good job of keeping this team ready to go.”
After finally breaking through in their third straight trip to the supersectionals, the Comets are ready for a new experience at Dozer Park. The seniors said the key will be to continue to take the same approach to the final two games that they have all season.
“I think we definitely have to lock in. We’ve talked about that a lot as a team, just lock in and get our business done on the field,’ Johns said. “We have to make sure to get one out at a time, and hitting, just make good contact, battle with the pitchers, don’t give in with anything. If we play smooth and clean, just keep that same mindset we’ve had all year, the rest will take care of itself.”
“It’s just not being nervous, not giving into the big atmosphere and big crowd,” Britt added. “Just playing our game, playing like it’s any other field.”
One thing the Comets have been able to do all season is stay loose and enjoy playing the game. Very rarely do they show any nerves, and Tunink doesn’t think that will be any different this weekend in Peoria.
“I feel like we’ve gotten past our nervous part of the thing, just winning supers, so now I feel like we can just go out there and just play the game how we want to play and just keep it rolling,” he said. “I feel like we don’t really have any nerves anymore because we’ve already made it. Now we just want to see if we can win it all.”
With a win Friday, Newman would advance to Saturday’s state championship game at 11:30 a.m. against the winner of the other semifinal; a loss would mean a date in the third-place game at 9 a.m.
Goreville (25-13) and Waterloo Gibault (22-14) meet in that first semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday.