Class 2A baseball: Schlageter’s no-hitter, Cullen’s three hits lift JCA to regional title

T.J. Schlageter needed just 58 pitches in five innings as the Hilltoppers tripped Reed-Custer, 10-0

BRAIDWOOD — T.J. Schlageter’s strong suit on the mound is throwing strikes.

The Joliet Catholic Academy junior left-hander did just that Monday in the championship game of the Class 2A Reed-Custer Regional. Schlageter needed just 58 pitches in five innings, 39 of which were strikes, to complete a no-hitter as the Hilltoppers cruised to a 10-0 win over the Comets. The win advances JCA to the JCA Sectional, where they will take on Chicago University High on Wednesday at 4:30.

Schlageter retired the first 11 batters he faced until Reed-Custer’s Jake McPherson reached on an error. Schlageter got out of the inning with one of his five strikeouts. With two outs in the top of the fifth, Reed-Custer’s Brandon Carlo reached on an error and again Schlageter countered with a strikeout.

In the top of the second, Reed-Custer’s Connor Esparza hit a sinking liner to right that looked like it might fall for a hit, but JCA right fielder Trey Swiderski charged hard and made a diving catch.

“About the fifth inning, I knew I had a no-hitter going,” Schlageter said. “I just wanted to keep doing what I had been doing, and that’s pound the strike zone. I know my fielders will do their jobs. I am blessed to have them behind me. They put their bodies on the line for me.

“It’s sweet and cool to win the regional championship, but we still have more work to do. Losing in the regional last year really stung and we still have that bad taste in our mouth. It will be nice to be home for the sectional, for sure. Hopefully we can get a lot of fans to come out.”

While Schlageter was shutting down the Reed-Custer offense, his teammates gave him more than ample run support.

In the bottom of the second, Michael Ascencio reached second on an error and Ryan Louthan walked. A bunt single by Brennan Luz loaded the bases, and Tommy Kemp grounded out to second, scoring Ascencio. An infield single by Danny O’Brien loaded the bases again, and a grounder to second by Aidan Voss brought home courtesy runner Dom Coda. A single to left by Jackson Cullen (3 for 4, double, 3 RBIs) then singled home both Luz and O’Brien.

“I saw the ball pretty well today,” Cullen said. “I was just trying to sit back and wait. I had been having trouble with the pitches on the outside corner, and I was able to hit one the other way for a double in my first at-bat.

“We’re not done. We still have five more games to win.”

The Hilltoppers (21-10) put up two more in the bottom of the third, including an RBI single by Luz (2 for 2, RBI), before plating three in the bottom of the fourth as Cullen, Ascencio and Louthan all had RBI singles. An RBI single by Luka Radicevich in the bottom of the fourth brought home Voss, who had doubled, with the game’s final run.

“Once again, we got hits up and down the lineup,” JCA coach Jared Voss said. “Jackson Cullen had some big hits, and so did Michael Ascencio and Luka Radicevich. We have a very experienced lineup and a lot of guys with playoff experience.

“T.J. did a great job today of pitching to contact. We thought about pulling him, but his pitch count was so low that we put him back out there. He did a good job, and, for the most part, we picked up the ball behind him.”

For Reed-Custer (14-11), it was a great learning experience.

“We only had three seniors this year,” Reed-Custer coach Jake Evans said. “It was good experience for our young guys to see that level of competition. We were hoping to see them, because that meant that we were playing for the regional championship.

“Hats off to JCA. They capitalized on some of our mistakes. And, with Schlageter pitching, we knew runs would be at a premium. Then when they got up by four runs, it kind of took us out of what we like to do offensively, and that’s play small ball. This year, we weren’t the type of team that scored runs in bunches, and we ran into a buzzsaw today.”