MINOOKA – The Joliet West baseball team didn’t do anything offensively through the first three innings Wednesday in the sectional semifinal game against Minooka.
And they barely made a dent in the fifth through seventh innings either.
But that still left the fourth inning, and the fourth inning was all they needed to capture a 4-1 victory over Minooka, as a raucous crowd watched.
“It was a just a great baseball game,” Joliet West coach John Karczewski said. “Hats off to our guys for battling. It’s a credit to our kids and our coaches for coming through. This is the biggest win of my high school coaching career.”
The win puts the Tigers (20-10-1) in Friday’s sectional championship against O’Fallon, a 4-1 winner over Edwardsville in its sectional semifinal matchup.
Joliet West’s offense didn’t seem poised to do much of anything off Minooka’s starting pitcher Ryan Anderson. Anderson faced one over the minimum in the first three innings, hitting two batters but allowing no hits.
In the interim, Minooka scratched out a run in its half of the second inning getting an RBI single from Joey Gould. And with the way things had shaped up early it appeared that might be a very big run.
Joliet West’s attack in the fourth inning started innocently enough with a ground out. Then, Tigers slugger Ty Batusich coaxed a walk from Anderson before Lucas Coyl found a gap in the Minooka infield for the Tigers first hit.
With two runners on, Matt Stariha bounced a ball in the middle of the Minooka infield. A bobble followed by a misstep around the bag allowed all runners to be safe, while Batusich crossed the plate to tie the score at 1.
Issac Rios drilled another hit to make the score 2-1, and then a bizarre play on a bunt attempt led to Josh Wokurka reaching first. But in the confusion of the error, the lead runner Stariha held at third, and Rios did not realize the lead runner held.
Rios tried to scramble back to second base and a hard collision followed between Rios and the Minooka infield and the ball came loose. As the ball popped out, Stariha sprinted home. But he was returned to third base in a rarely invoked ruling that Rios attempt to get back to the base was a malicious collision that not only had Rios being called out on the play but also wouldn’t allow the lead runner to benefit from the play either.
Fortunately for the Tigers, pinch hitter Manny Rincon stepped in and got the run back by lacing an RBI single to push the lead to 3-1, and freshman Jimmy Anderson got yet another single to tack on the fourth and final run of the inning.
That was going to be enough run support for Joliet West starter Conner Hogan. The sophomore, who now has an 8-0 record on the season, darted in and out of trouble throughout the game and only had one clean inning throughout the contest.
But Hogan didn’t rattle despite the stressful innings and showed a composure you might not expect for a young player.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and hoping my defense would do the job behind me, and they did,” Hogan said. “If you’re not confident you aren’t playing it right. It was fun. I’ve never been a part of something like this, and I can’t wait to be a part of it again.”