MORRIS – Bryan Van Bogaert did something he has done all year, enabling the Kaneland baseball team to do something it never never done before.
Van Bogaert got the win in relief Thursday, 3-2 over Morris, pitching 31⁄3 innings of shutout baseball, and the Knights won an outright conference championship for the first time.
“It’s the first time in school history that we’ve won one outright, so it’s a big deal,” Van Bogaert said of clinching the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference title. “Not even last year’s team did that, so it’s a big deal. It’s something nobody will ever be able to take away from us.”
Morris was leading 2-0 against Kaneland starter Matt Limbrunner. In the Redskins’ first, back-to-back doubles by Jake Ruettiger and Ryan Ties accounted for one run, and in the third, a single by Ties, a wild pitch and an RBI double by Jake Capko resulted in the other.
In the fourth, Morris had Kenny Milosovic on second base with one out when the call went out to Van Bogaert. He got out of that jam and yielded only two hits the rest of the way to give his team a chance at the come-from-behind win.
“It’s something I’ve done all year, to get outs when coming in like that,” Van Bogaert said. “It was exciting. Everyone was into it.”
All that was left for the Knights then was to figure out a way to solve Morris pitcher Jake Olson.
Kaneland pushed across one in the fifth when Ray Barry singled and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Heinle.
The Knights scored the deciding runs in the sixth.
Quinn Buschbacher started the sixth by singling, and one out later Jordan Jones singled. A fielder’s choice for the second out threatened the rally, but Barry came up with a clutch opposite-field double into the left-center gap. Buschbacher and Jones scored on the play to account for all the scoring in the game.
It turned out to be a three-game sweep for Kaneland (20-9, 13-2 NI Big 12) over Morris (14-16, 6-9). However, all three games were about as tight as can be.
“Morris is always tough no matter what. To win three conference games from them by a combined four runs is something,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “We were lucky to get out of here with the series. I think it says a lot about us.
“Our team goal all year was to win the conference outright. I’m happy to say that we did that. It’s something we struggled to do in the last couple of years, so I am glad we did it this year.”
Playing the defending Class 3A state champions to within four runs in three games was of little solace to Morris coach Todd Kein.
“We’re happy that we were competitive down to the last strike in every game, but we are nowhere near satisfied,” he said. “We know we are a better team than we showed in all three games. There wasn’t one game in the series where we feel like they earned it.
“Don’t get me wrong, they are a good ballclub and at the top of the conference for a reason, but we gave a little bit too much away over the last three games.”
Olson took the loss for Morris. He went all seven innings, yielding three earned runs on seven hits and four walks.
Olson fanned one.
“Our pitchers have been outstanding, and Oly fits right in there. He pitched a heck of a game,” Kein said. “Our staff as a whole is right where we want it to be. The thing is we need the other aspects of our game to pick up. But we are confident they will, that we’ll put it all together soon. If we do that, we’ll be a dangerous team down the stretch.