Baseball: Lucas Rink powers through early issues to carry Wilmington to regional title

Wildcats will face Chicago Christian at Beecher Sectional

Wilmington celebrates its Class 2A Reed-Custer Regional title win.

BRAIDWOOD – The game started off pretty badly for Wilmington pitcher Lucas Rink on Saturday morning.

The first pitch he threw was deposited over the right centerfield fence for a home run by Coal City’s Lance Cuddy.

And then it got worse.

An error, an infield hit and a walk loaded the bases for Coal City all with no outs before Rink paused, took a breath and went to work. He struck out the next three batters to get out of what could have been a disastrous frame.

They were the first three strikeouts in what turned out to be a dominant start from Rink as Wilmington claimed a 7-1 victory over Coal City to capture the championship of the Class 2A Reed-Custer Regional Championship.

The win pushes Wilmington (24-1) into Wednesday’s Beecher Sectional where it will play Chicago Christian (16-13), which won its own regional title with an 8-0 victory over Leo on Saturday.

“Well. That wasn’t a fun thing to see,” Rink said of the first pitch homer he allowed. “But you just have to battle through it. That’s all you can do. You just have to come back and compete. Even with the bases loaded, you just have to keep a level head and that’s what I did.”

And while the beginning wasn’t ideal, Wilmington coach Mike Bushnell didn’t sound any alarms because of Rink’s early potential peril.

“I think maybe it was one of those situations where we just had to get the nerves out a little bit. It’s a big game for us,” Bushnell said. “There’s a little bit of that pressure early on, but then they settled in. There was no worry or no freaking out about it.”

Wilmington drew even with a first-inning run on an RBI single from Zach Ohlund and Rink went back to work in the second with renewed fervor. He struck out two in the second and struck out at least two batters in every inning but one, finishing with 13 strikeouts in a complete game effort.

He only ran into serious trouble once more in the fifth inning when Coal City (16-13) loaded the bases with two out but Rink bore down recorded yet another strikeout and ran off the mound with an exultant war cry.

“I like to bring energy,” Rink said. “I think the team feeds off that. Somebody’s got to bring it. When the bats get hot, we’re all coming out of the dugout celebrating and that’s baseball.”

Wilmington seemed to have ample opportunity to blow the game wide open with a big hit, but its piecemeal offensive attack did well enough. They took the lead with a solitary run scored in the second inning on a wild pitch, Kyle Farrell swatted a solo home run in the third and the fourth saw the floodgates open a bit when Cade McCubbin walloped a three-run home run in the fourth to push the Wilmington lead to 6-1.

Rink got into the act by blasting a solo home run in the sixth to cap the game’s scoring.

“We were just adding one run at a time and sometimes that’s how it goes,” Bushnell said. “And some of our big bats did come through.”

The victory was Wilmington’s 22nd win in a row. The Wildcats lone loss of the season came at the hands of Joliet West back on March 19th, and are clearly playing with purpose and a lot of momentum.

Last year Wilmington lost at this stage of the playoffs to Joliet Catholic and arguably gave the Hilltoppers their most competitive game in its postseason run that led to winning the Class 2A State Championship. Joliet Catholic was moved up to Class 3A for this [and next year’s] postseason, and while that guarantees nothing in regards to Wilmington’s ability to make a deep postseason run, it’s hard to deny things are looking promising for the Wildcats to make a deep run.

“There’s been a lot of momentum building up all the way back to that JCA game,” Bushnell said. “We had the bases loaded, down two in that game and we were one hit away. So there was a lot of talk with that and some carryover from that into this season. I had a lot of young guys and those guys are now juniors and sophomores and more ready for this.”