Baseball: Lincoln-Way West overcomes early deficit to down Minooka, remain unblemished

Jacob Willis’ sixth inning RBI single proved to be a game-winner

Jacob Willis of Lincoln-Way West

The Lincoln-Way West and Minooka baseball teams had a “Mad Max” esque setting on Friday afternoon. LWW with an undefeated record and Minooka having won nine of their past 11, including three straight. Lincoln-Way West High School was much like the Thunderdome: Two teams enter, one team leaves.

Early on, it looked like Minooka would be that team before the Warriors tied the game and left the result in question. By the time the game came to an end, no question remained.

Jacob Willis smacked a two-out, two-strike RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to score Braden Irwin and put the Warriors in front. Minooka couldn’t get the tying or winning runs home and the Warriors kept their perfect season intact with a 4-3 victory.

LWW (12-0) looked early on like their perfect season might be coming to an end. The Warriors fell behind 3-0 through the first three innings as the bats couldn’t get going and the defense struggled with the high winds. It took taking advantage of a few breaks in the fourth for LWW to tie the game up before setting up Willis’ heroics.

“We found another way to win today,” Lincoln-Way West head coach Jake Zajc said. “We had a nice performance on the mound with Lucas (Acevedo) coming in there and Adam (Gerl) did a good job to start us off. We had given (Minooka) a couple of good chances early and they cashed in on it like good teams do. We battled back, got a couple breaks ourselves and did just enough. That’s all we can say.”

Nate George got the scoring started in the first inning for Minooka (10-5) when his RBI single scored Brayden Zilis to put them up 1-0. Jason Duy followed that up in the second inning with a two-out solo homer to increase the lead to two. The third inning saw Minooka move the advantage to three after Zilis scored on an error.

However, the bottom of the fourth saw the game change in an instant.

After Conor Essenburg was walked, Minooka got a quick pair of outs to put LWW on their heels. Acevedo was then walked before Ben Shea’s RBI single scored Essenburg to get the Warriors on the board. Danny Hodel was walked to load the bases and Josh Howard hit what looked like it would be a routine infield popup. The heavy wind made it an error instead that scored Ian Hazelip and Shea to tie the game at 3-3.

That’s the way the score remained until there were two outs in the sixth inning. With Willis in a 2-2 count, he smacked one to score Braden Irwin and put the Warriors ahead 4-3 with just one inning remaining. The Warriors got the three outs they needed and that was all she wrote.

“It was an intense situation,” Willis said. “Every time I’m at the plate I just think the same thing. Just take deep breaths, look for the pitch in the zone, especially with two strikes you have to battle. I was looking for anything close, battling and then just tried to put it in play. It worked out.”

Gerl and Acevedo combined for seven strikeouts while Josh Howard went 2-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the Warriors. CJ Deckinga struck out seven batters in five innings of work, Duy hit the homer and George went 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead Minooka.

Minooka will visit Oswego East on Monday while LWW will host Stagg the same day. Zajc is hoping to see even greater effort moving forward.

“Every high school team always works on two-strike hitting,” Zajc said. “Overall in this game we needed to do a lot better job of that. That’s something that we need to continue to work on. When you practice it and learn from it it’s a great learning experience. We just need to develop the confidence to do it. That’s the biggest thing.”