Eff loses baseball

Effingham first baseman Derek Schroeder waits for the ball as Sacred Heart-Griffin’s Connor Sestak gets back to first base on an unsuccessful pickoff attempt.

Sometimes the final score falls a long way short of telling the whole story.

Such was the case in Effingham High School’s 9-0 loss to top-seeded Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in Friday’s Class AA sectional semifinal at Lanphier Park in Springfield.

Anyone who wasn’t actually at the game would look at that score, combined with the fact that the Hearts were outhit 12-4, and assume that it was a laugher.

They would be wrong.

For five and a half innings, Effingham’s Anthony Jansen and Sacred Heart-Griffin’s lefty starter Joel Bonnett were locked in a pitchers’ duel that would be won by the first team to finally capitalize on some offensive opportunities.

The Cyclones grabbed an early lead over ninth-seeded Effingham in the very first inning when their first two hitters reached on a single from leadoff man Mike Hurt and then a double from speedster Alex Reavy to put two in scoring position with nobody out.

First baseman Connor Sestak, heading to Purdue next year on a baseball scholarship, followed with a grounder to Ryan Ohnesorge at shortstop. Ohnesorge took the sure out at first and like that the Cyclones led and Reavy was standing at third.

A slow bouncer to first by the next hitter, and Reavy was crossing the plate to give Sacred Heart-Griffin a 2-0 lead. The score would remain 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth.

Meanwhile, Effingham came out swinging but simply couldn’t put anything together. The Hearts left seven men on base in the contest, but seemed a lot of the time to get their hits and draw their walks with a man or two already out.

“We were a couple hits away from busting it open,” said Effingham Coach Chris Fleener. “We had runners in scoring position a couple times and we just couldn’t get the big hit.

“We were limited in what we could do,” Fleener continued. “It’s hard to bunt the ball and move somebody over with two outs and it’s hard to steal on a lefty.”

That lefty had as much to do with Effingham’s offensive woes as anything. Bonnett, a sophomore who entered the game with an 8-0 record and a minuscule 2.25 earned run average, effectively changed speeds and locations all afternoon to really keep the Hearts from ever getting things going.

“(Bonnett) did a good job of keeping us off balance,” Fleener said. “We hit the ball hard a couple times and when we hit it hard they made some great plays. Everyone else just made the routine plays.”

The great plays mentioned by Fleener were a couple of catches by Cyclone outfielders. In the first inning, leadoff man Jansen ripped a 2-2 offering to center but was victimized by center fielder Pat Sheehan’s diving snare.

In the top of the fourth, Hearts catcher Eric Casper smoked a fastball out into left field, but the sure base hit was taken away by an across-the-body diving grab by a fully outstretched Joel Washko.

Senior Lucas Stortzum was the lone Heart with a good day at the plate. The left fielder was 2-for-3 with a stolen base.

Despite all that, Jansen pitched very well after the first inning until things unraveled a bit in the sixth. The senior ace of Effingham’s staff scattered four hits and a walk over the next four innings, pounding the low outside corner that the home plate umpire was giving him all day.

His defense also stepped up for him on several occasions. In the second after a leadoff triple by second baseman Jon Brant, the following hitter bounced a ball to Brad Gouchenouer at second and Brant was off on contact heading for home.

Gouchenouer went home with the ball, where Casper was expertly blocking the plate and kept the run from scoring.

“Eric’s done a wonderful job,” said Fleener. “He’s earned his starting spot.”

Casper also cut down a speedy Brant trying to steal second in the fifth. The Cyclones had stolen 150 bags in their 36 games prior to Friday’s action.

In addition, Jansen picked off Jennings at first with a quick move that he used often to hold the speedy Cyclones to just one stolen base all game.

But alas, it didn’t last for Jansen. After five innings of excellent pitching, Sacred Heart-Griffin started to solve him in the bottom of the sixth. After putting the first two batters on, Jansen allowed a two-run double to Jennings and Fleener decided to pull the plug.

Curran McNeely came in and allowed consecutive hits to make it 5-0, and Tyler Fox was called upon to try and sort out the mess. Fox was equally unsuccessful, allowing three more hits before Sheehan, batting for the second time that inning, mercifully flew out to center to end the inning at 9-0.

Bonnett completed the four-hit shutout by sitting down the Hearts 1-2-3 in the seventh with a pair of strikeouts.

“It was my decision to go ahead and take him out,” said Fleener of Jansen. “It was getting later on in the game and I thought maybe he could be getting tired.

“Usually he doesn’t get tired, but I just thought I’d go ahead and change pitchers and maybe that would throw them off a little bit. It just didn’t work out in our favor.”

Fleener says that he is far from disappointed in Jansen’s outing, however.

“I had all the confidence in the world in him,” said Fleener. “To be honest with you, its hard to throw and throw and throw and not get any run support. It’s different when you get runs behind you.”

Ten seniors will be lost to graduation from this year’s Effingham team. Kyle Durbin, Derek Schroeder, Kenny Koenig, Stortzum, Gouchenouer and Jansen were all in Friday’s starting lineup.

“They were the heart and soul of this team,” said Fleener of his last-year players. “They meant a lot, and there’s some seniors that are definitely going to be missed more than any others in this program. We’ve got a lot to replace, but also a lot to look forward to.”

Sacred Heart-Griffin improves to 29-8 and will play the winner of the Mount Zion vs. Chatham Glenwood game today at 10 a.m. for the sectional championship. The winner advances to the Sauget Super-sectional Monday.

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