Effingham Daily News
EFFINGHAM — With runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the fourth inning of Thursday’s National Trail Conference tournament between St. Anthony and Stew-Stras, Bulldog freshman Jeff Niebrugge stepped to the plate.
The score was knotted at 0, after St. Anthony had stranded the bases loaded in the first inning and the Comets had been struggling to get their bats on Zach Gardewine’s pitches.
Since runs were at a premium, St. Anthony coach Kenny Miller decided to put on a risky squeeze play.
Niebrugge squared to bunt at the last second and deadened the ball perfectly in front of the plate.
Austin Bushur scored easily, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in a game they would eventually win 2-1.
“He’s done it before,” Miller said of Niebrugge’s clutch bunt. “Anybody that’s watched us play knows we’ll put a squeeze down at any time, under any circumstances. Any one of those kids can put a squeeze down.”
“I was ready for it,” Niebrugge said. “We practiced bunts last night in practice.”
Bushur scored the Bulldogs’ second run in the bottom of the sixth inning, on a sacrifice fly by Alex Hoelscher.
Gardewine took care of the rest, pitching 6 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and striking out 10 batters to earn the victory.
Ben Hecht got the final two outs to pick up a save, leaving three Comet runners stranded when the game ended.
“It was a great feeling that we escaped that,” Gardewine said of the seventh-inning jam. “We just need to get our hitting together.”
“Zach pitched a really good game,” Miller said. “I have no problem with the way Zach pitched and the way we played defense. I just wish we could have adjusted better at the plate.”
Though the Bulldogs escaped with a win, they had some trouble hitting against Stew-Stras pitcher Mark Jones.
Jones allowed only four hits in six innings and kept the St. Anthony hitters off balance.
“The old saying in baseball is ‘hitting is timing and pitching is throwing off timing,’ ” Miller said. “Well, (Jones) did a good job of pitching then, so I give him a lot of credit.”
The St. Anthony defense was sharp for most of the night, turning 6-4-3 double plays in the first two innings and only committing one error.
“It makes me have more confidence in myself like I had last year,” Gardewine said of his teammates’ defensive effort. “All I’ve got to do is throw strikes and my teammates help me.”
Pitching and defense aside, Miller said that if his team wants to emerge victorious in tonight’s championship game it will have to hit better.
The Bulldogs will take on the top-seeded South Central Cougars in St. Elmo tonight at 7 p.m.
South Central 10, Neoga 9
After a six-run fifth inning by the Indians, the top-seeded Cougars bounced back with two runs in the sixth inning and two in the seventh inning to reach the championship agme.
Noah Powless picked up the victory on the mound and also went 3 for 4 with an RBI.
Shawn Meyer was 2 for 2 and had a two-run homer in the third, and Kyle Bray was 3 for 5 with three RBIs and the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh.
Dieterich 9, Altamont 1
Tied at 1 heading into the seventh inning, the Maroons exploded for eight runs en route to a 9-1 victory at Altamont in the consolation bracket.
Six Indians errors led to three unearned runs for Dieterich. Cole Hartke had two RBI, and Tanner Traub, Brandon Westjohn, Trenton Poe and Clayton Campton each had one for the Maroons.
Traub pitched a complete game, allowing only one hit and striking out seven.
Garrett Ziegler scored the Indians’ only run and Austin Finn picked up the lone hit.
Dieterich advanced to the NTC consolation championship game against St. Elmo, to be played in Dieterich at 4 p.m.
St. Elmo 6, Windsor 3
It took eight innings for the Eagles to knock off the Blue Devils.
The score was tied at 2 heading into the eighth, when St. Elmo scored four runs in the top of the frame.
Windsor scored one run in the bottom of the eighth.
Connor Beasley picked up the victory and also drove in two runs.
Ian Stremming was 2 for 4 with two singles and an RBI for the Blue Devils.