Sweeping of the Bulls
WILMONT -- Aaron Johnson delivered on the mound and at the plate Sunday afternoon, helping the Wilmont Cardinals complete a Region 13C amateur baseball playoff series sweep of the Jackson Bulls with a 7-4 victory.
The victory caps the best-of-five series, improves Wilmont's season record to 25-4, and puts the Cardinals in the Class C state tournament for the third straight summer.
Johnson picked up the victory, pitching the final 1 1/3 innings in relief of Ben Morrison, who was brilliant in his 7 2/3 innings of work.
Johnson also drove in Josh Lowe with a one-out, go-ahead single in the Cardinals' three-run eighth inning, which snapped a 4-all tie. Nate Harberts later plated Ethan Noble and Johnson to make it 7-4 going into the ninth.
The late rally by Wilmont was needed as Jackson finally got to Morrison and scored a pair of runs in the eighth to tie the game at four-all.
Morrison -- who gave up a walk, two hits and two runs in the first inning -- was perfect from the second inning through the seventh, retiring all 18 batters that stepped to the plate.
"Ben really had it working today," Wilmont manager Jeff Appel said following the game. "Retiring 18 straight batters, especially against a good team like Jackson, is really doing the job."
Morrison fanned just three batters in that stretch, relying on his defense to make plays. He induced seven flyouts and eight groundouts, including a fantastic diving play by second baseman Josh Noble to end the top of the sixth.
However, with his team leading 4-2, Morrison ran into trouble in the eighth, as he walked Jared Rahe and Caleb Rossow to open the frame.
After Alex Schmidt advanced the runners with a perfect sacrifice bunt, pinch-hitter Pat Frank plated Rahe with a groundout to first, making it 4-3.
Jon Hummel then tied the game by slapping a full-count pitch into right field for a single, scoring Rossow with the Bulls' fourth run.
Appel then relieved Morrison with Johnson, who was greeted with a bunt single by Andy Wolf, bringing Wade Wacker to the plate.
Wacker, who slammed a two-run home run in the first inning, cracked his bat this time, as he popped out to second to end the inning.
Wilmont responded with a trio of runs in the bottom half of the inning, as Josh Noble led off with a sharp single up the middle.
Jessie Schwartzer then reached on a fielder's choice that retired Noble, and moved to second on a wild pitch. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Wilmont inserted Lowe as a pinch-runner for Schwartzer.
Ethan Noble then drew a walk off reliever Ryan Dupic, bringing up Johnson, who had bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the sixth inning.
But Johnson delivered this time, drilling a single into left field, and Lowe came around to score and make it 5-4 Wilmont.
"A.J. deserves a lot of credit for coming through with a big hit in a big spot," Appel said. "We've had a lot of different guys step up in certain situations the past couple of seasons, and today was no different."
After Jesse Teerink struck out, Ethan Noble and Johnson each moved up a base on a wild pitch from Dupic, who relieved starter Tom Hady in the seventh inning.
With two outs, Nate Harberts smashed a single into right field for his third hit of the game, and Noble and Johnson each scored to give the Cardinals a 7-4 cushion.
Jackson, however, came right back in the ninth with back-to-back one-out singles by Kip Wachal and Rahe.
Johnson retired the next two batters, though, with a soft liner to short by Rossow and a called third strike on Schmidt, ending the game and stamping Wilmont's fourth trip to the state tournament in the last five years.
The game started with Jackson taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning, as Hummel led off with a walk and scored on Wacker's one-out bomb over the right-field fence. Wachal later singled, but was caught stealing by Sam Baumgartner to end the inning.
And for the next six innings, Jackson couldn't touch Morrison. Meanwhile, Wilmont was generating run support for its right-hander.
The run support started with a three-run second inning, as Ethan Noble, Johnson, Teerink and Harberts cracked four consecutive one-out singles. Teerink's hit plated Noble to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
After an infield fly by Nick Raymo, Baumgartner smacked a single into shallow center field, and Johnson and Teerink both scored on the play, with Teerink sliding in head-first to beat second baseman Hummel's throw to the plate.
However, Wilmont couldn't add to its lead over the next four innings, as Hady allowed just two singles -- to Schwartzer and Ethan Noble -- during that stretch.
With Morrison in complete command, Wilmont scored its fourth run of the contest in the seventh. Teerink led off with a single and advanced to second on Harberts' perfectly-placed bunt single.
That's when Dupic relieved Hady, and after a fielder's choice off the bat of Raymo retired Harberts, the Cardinals executed a beautiful double steal.
With runners at the corners, Raymo attempted to steal second. The throw to second was not in time, and Teerink broke for home, sliding safely in head-first to beat the throw home for the second time of the game.
That made it 4-2, setting up the rallies by both teams in the eighth inning.
"We got some key two-out hits today, and that's what you got to do in the playoffs," Appel said. "It's great to sweep this series and go to the state tournament again."
Wilmont will play the winner of the Pipestone and Fox Lake series later this week to determine seeding for the state tournament.
R H E
Jackson 200 000 020 -- 4 6 0
Wlmnt 030 000 13x -- 7 13 0