At state, pitching is key to success

WORTHINGTON -- The opening-round pairings are set. The Wilmont Cardinals will square off against the Milroy Yankees Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Miesville to begin their quest for a state "C" amateur baseball title.

WORTHINGTON -- The opening-round pairings are set. The Wilmont Cardinals will square off against the Milroy Yankees Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Miesville to begin their quest for a state "C" amateur baseball title.

Neither team is unfamiliar with the tournament, as the Cardinals (27-4) are making their fourth appearance in the last five years and the Yankees (22-11) their fourth in the last six tournaments.

The Cardinals haven't had a lot of success after reaching the tournament, with their best showing in 2004 -- when they made it to the second round following a 2-1 victory over Arlington to open the tournament. Other than that lone victory, the Cardinals have been sent home early, losing to Green Isle in 2005 and Elrosa (4-3) in 2002.

"We make it to the tournament and just can't seem to put runs on the board," Wilmont player/coach Jeff Appel said.

In 1994, the Yankees were runners-up -- exactly 40 years after winning the state "B" title in 1954. In recent years, the Yankees' best showing was a quarterfinal appearance last year when Holdingford sent them packing. In '02, St. Patrick beat the Yankees in the second round, 10-2, and Sobieski edged Milroy 5-4 in the 2001 opening round.


One thing that always ensures success at the state tournament is pitching. With many contests being decided by a single run, good pitching is paramount.

"Everyone who makes it to the tournament has an excellent pitching staff," Appel said. "Pitching has always been a strength on our team, and this year is no different."

While both teams are mum when it comes to a starter for Saturday's game, each team has a number of top-notch hurlers that could get the nod.

Boasting a team ERA of 2.09, Aaron Johnson leads the Cardinals in victories with 11 against one loss. Johnson relies on his curveball and change-up pitches to keep hitters off balance. After setting up would-be hitters with the tricky stuff, Johnson often gets batters out with some high heat.

"A.J. just keeps getting stronger," Appel said. "He will battle with anyone who steps up to the plate."

Nate Harberts has a team-best ERA of 1.87 for Wilmont. His record on the hill is 6-2 for the season, pitching a total of 82 innings. Harberts likes to go after the opposition with a lot of power -- using the fastball as his primary pitch. He also possesses an excellent curve, and in combination, strikes out many batters looking.

Ben Morrison is perfect on the mound for the Cardinals this season, posting a 7-0 record along with a save. While his ERA of 2.66 is third best on the team, Morrison -- more often that not -- goes deep into games.

In Game 3 of Wilmont's regional series with the Jackson Bulls, "Bennie" set down 18 consecutive hitters in a 7-4 victory. Morrison's best pitch is his curve, which heads toward home with extraordinary speed and dramatically drops off the table a few feet before reaching the plate.


With the addition of catcher/pitcher Grant Carlson, picked up in the draft from the Fox Lake Foxes, the Cardinals are right where they want to be heading into Saturday's game.

"I think we're peaking at just the right time," Johnson said following the team's regional championship victory over the Pipestone A's. "We're a confident team heading into the state tournament."

The Yankees have a number of pitchers they could start Saturday afternoon. Brian Dolan leads Milroy with an impressive ERA of 1.25 over 58 innings. He has a 5-1 record in his six starts.

Player/coach Ryan Rohlik is 4-2 in six starts. His ERA of 2.25 is second best for Yankee hurlers who have pitched more than 20 innings.

Nathan Deutz and Drew Van Loy are considered the aces for the Yankees, getting the call against the tougher opponents.

"These guys know the pressure of a state tournament," Rohlik said. "It will be a game-time decision as to which one of them will start against Wilmont. We have a lot of respect for the Cardinals' offense, and both of these guys throw hard."

Deutz has to be considered Milroy's workhorse. Much like Morrison for the Cardinals, Deutz stays on the hill well into contests and has pitched more innings than any other Yankee hurler. While his 2.82 ERA ranks fifth on the team, Deutz has started eight games and has pitched in a total 14 games for Milroy.

"His record is deceiving," Rohlik said of the south paw. "He suffered two tough losses against a good Marshall team, which didn't help his stats much."


The only undefeated pitcher on the Yankee staff is Van Loy, who is 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts. Coming back from shoulder surgery two years ago, Van Loy is getting back into top form.

"We pitched Drew against Brookings twice this year," Rohlik said of the right hander. "He knows what it takes to get the job done against the best teams."

Regardless of the pitching match-up, another key to winning at the state tournament is staying out of trouble. As the errors pile up, so do the runs.

"Pitching is definitely a key to success in the tournament. You'll see a lot of small ball," Appel said. "But you've got to play to the strengths of your game and minimize the mistakes. One mistake and you're packing up for the ride home."

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