BIG ROCK – Trailing by six runs after the first inning and a half, the outlook couldn't have looked much worse for the Hinckley-Big Rock baseball team. And if something didn’t change, its season would be over.
Over the next 4 1/2 innings, the Royals outscored Elgin Academy by 16 runs thanks in large part to patience at the plate and a handful of two-out hits. H-BR beat the Hilltoppers, 17-7, in six innings to advance to the semifinals of the Class Hinckley-Big Rock Regional.
The fourth-seeded Royals (10-10) will play top-seeded Hiawatha at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We did not play clean baseball at the beginning of that game,” H-BR coach Brad Unger said. “But (pitcher) Jake Ryan competed today and that is something that you have to do. We weren’t playing sharp defensively, but we were patient at the plate and put pressure on their pitchers to throw strikes, which they didn’t do.”
Ryan pitched all six innings for the Royals. The senior hurler allowed all seven runs on seven hits. After trailing 6-0 after his first two innings, Ryan bore down and only allowed one run on two hits over the final four innings.
“I think I finally figured out the strike zone, then the defense backed me up," Ryan said. “I think we came out a little shaky, but we got it together. We finally got some runs, which was good.”
H-BR cut the lead to two after scoring four runs in the bottom of the second inning. Elgin Academy (1-16) tacked on one more run in the top of the third, and that’s when the Royals started to take control.
H-BR scored four runs in the bottom of the third and never relinquished the lead. Noah McQueen and Tristan Sanderson, who were the No. 8-9 hitters, reached base six times and scored four runs. Unger said this helped his squad get started.
“The top of our order has done a tremendous job. But today, the bottom of our order was getting on base, which was key for us,” Unger said. “That got us to recycle the order and the guys at the top could drive them in. Overall, it was well-rounded offensively for us and hopefully that builds us some momentum Wednesday.”
The game ended when the Royals batted around for the second time in the game – this time in the sixth inning. H-BR scored nine runs in the inning thanks in large part to the Hilltopper pitchers' inability to find the strike zone. Timely hits from Sanderson, Ryan, Bailey McQueen and Jacob Morsch were key throughout the contest.
“We just needed to be patient,” Unger said. “I think we were a little too aggressive and had those jitters in the first game of a regional.”