Baseball: Lincoln-Way West pieces together win over Lincoln-Way Central

Warriors will play for sectional title Saturday

Lincoln-Way West’s Lucas Acevedo delivers a pitch against Lincoln-Way Central in the Class 4A Providence Sectional semifinal on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in New Lenox.

NEW LENOX – Lincoln-Way West had a spectacular regular season, winning its first 22 baseball games.

But Wednesday afternoon’s opponent at the Class 4A Providence Sectional, Lincoln-Way Central, proved to be a little bit of kryptonite for the Warriors, as the Knights won both of the regular-season matchups between the teams.

And through the first three innings of the sectional semifinal it looked entirely possible that grip Lincoln-Way Central had on the Warriors might still be holding strong.

But the Warriors (30-4) broke through the wall little by little, erasing an early one-run Lincoln-Way Central advantage to emerge with a 5-2 victory and a place in Saturday’s 11 a.m. sectional title game against either Providence or Andrew.

“Lincoln-Way Central is obviously a very good baseball team,” Lincoln-Way West coach Jake Zajc said. “When you look at the two games that we did play them, they did jump out ahead of us early. So we wanted to start fast like every team wants to. Trailing 1-0 is not where we wanted to be, but we battled back.”

Lincoln-Way West’s Braden Erwin slides into thirst ahead of the throw against Lincoln-Way Central in the Class 4A Providence Sectional semifinal on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in New Lenox.

Central took that 1-0 lead in the second inning despite putting only one ball in play. The Knights put three runners on via two walks and a hit batsmen, but an inability to put the ball in play against West starter Lucas Acevedo, an Illinois-Chicago recruit, limited the damage to only the lone run that came on the back end of a delayed double steal.

“At the start of the game, I’m nervous because I care,” Acevedo said. “It’s win or go home, and that’s when the nerves went away. So I just locked in. I knew I had to get the job done for my team.”

Despite a growing pitch count, Acevedo did indeed lock in and stranded solitary runners in the third and fourth innings to allow West’s offense to try to figure out a way to get at starter Kyle Maslan.

Maslan needed only 25 pitches to get through the first three innings and retired all nine batters in the order.

But West broke through in the fourth. Acevedo started the inning by reaching base when he was hit by a pitch, and he moved up to second on a wild pitch. After Conor Essenburg flew out, Jack Linko coaxed a walk, and Acevedo went to third on a fly out.

Lincoln-Way Central’s Landon Mensik makes a throw to first for the out against Lincoln-Way West in the Class 4A Providence Sectional semifinal on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in New Lenox.

Then Anthony Massa lofted a ball above the right side of the infield, and neither fielder in the vicinity was able to corral the ball. Acevedo and Linko raced in to score on the play, giving the Warriors a 2-1 lead.

“There wasn’t any doubt,” Massa said. “I have confidence in us. We’ve worked all year for this. But we just kept our approach and shot it up the middle and starting scoring.”

That same approach paid dividends again in the fifth when the Warriors strung together four hits and got a big two-out, two-run single from Essenburg to push the Lincoln-Way West lead to 4-1.

Acevedo finally began to show signs of the heavy workload in the sixth. Liam Arsich was plunked by a pitch to start the frame, and Collin Senkpeil followed with a single, which moved Arsich around to third. He scored on a sacrifice fly from Luke Tingley, then a another free pass to James Hawksworth ended Acevedo’s day just north of 100 pitches.

Reliever Colin McCarty started well, getting a strikeout, but he loaded the bases by hitting No. 9 hitter Filippo Baratta.

That presented a significant potential problem as it sent Central leadoff man Collin Mowry to the plate. Mowry did a lot of damage against the Warriors in the previous two meetings, but McCarty managed to get Mowry to offer at a pitch he was able to drive relatively well but into foul territory, and it was chased down on a fabulous defensive play by Essenburg that retired Mowry and extinguished the threat.

“That was a game saver,” Zajc said. “A hitter like Mowry can do damage in a hurry, so for Conor to make a play like that, well, that’s just phenomenal.”

West added an insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single from Josh Howard before McCarty retired the Knights in order to secure West’s place in the sectional title game.