MAPLE PARK – The looming threat of rain contributed to the late-inning drama between the Kaneland and Batavia baseball teams Tuesday during the second round of the summer state playoffs.
With raindrops sprinkling, fans and players alike nervously anticipated the final half-inning, after which Batavia held on for a 5-4 win thanks to solid performances from starting pitcher Evan Acosta and right fielder/relief pitcher Eric Huizinga.
Down a run, Kaneland (20-10-3) was hoping for some late-inning magic, especially with two outs, as it seemed to be the trend for both teams to show their scoring touch when down to their final out. After catcher Joe Laudont reached with a single, Kaneland couldn't convert with a man on base with both center fielder Nick Stratman and first baseman Danny Hammermeister popping out to end a potential rally.
“Batavia is a good team. I don't feel bad losing to a good team,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “We were right there. We had opportunities and we couldn't get it done.”
After a quick first inning for both teams, Batavia (17-6-1) awoke after two groundouts and catcher Matt Musielak's single. Second baseman Tyler Kledzik then ripped an RBI triple to put the Bulldogs ahead, 1-0. Center fielder Jimmy Roach followed with a big hit of his own and drove in Kledzik with a double to increase the lead to two.
Batavia continued the scoring spree in the top of the third inning, but not until after two outs again. Huizinga got things started with a single, and Ben Lynam promptly smacked an RBI double. Acosta helped his own cause by contributing an RBI single of his own, bringing home Lynam to make it 4-0.
Despite Acosta not hitting at all in the spring, he delivered an RBI single to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead. Musielak smoked an RBI double to make it 5-0 and Kledzik legged out a single before Kaneland was able to stop the bleeding thanks to a heads-up play by Laudont, who was able to cut down a potential run at the plate after Steve Limbrunner's pitch squirted away.
Kaneland responded quickly with a three-run third inning after shortstop Joey Panico reached base the hard way, being hit by an Acosta fastball. Second baseman Austin Wheatley followed with a single before Laudont popped out. Stratman put Kaneland on the board thanks to an RBI single while advancing Wheatley to second, which set the table for right fielder Matt Rosko's two-run double to inch the Knights to within 5-3.
Kaneland was able to tack on another run in the fifth inning after Stratman hit an RBI groundout, but that's as close as the Knights got as Huizinga converted the save opportunity.
“I thought we overall played a good game. We just had a couple bad innings with two outs," Limbrunner said.
Limbrunner took the loss, going three innings and surrendering seven hits and five runs with one strikeout. Acosta went five innings for Batavia, scattering seven hits with four strikeouts for the win.
Bulldogs coach Matt Holm came away impressed with Kaneland relief pitcher Matt O'Sullivan, who stifled the Bulldogs bats, and forced several groundouts to complement his three-strikeout day.
“He did a real nice job,” Holm said. “He didn't have anything blazing, but had a real nice change of pace, which kept us on our front foot.”
Batavia will play at St. Charles East against the host Saints in the regional semifinal at 5 p.m. today.
The Knights, meanwhile, will gear up for offseason workouts.
“We had a great summer. I'm really happy with where we're at,” Aversa said. “The coaches are excited, and we are really happy with how this team jelled together. … We're happy.”