St. Bede 2A baseball regional: St. Bede 5, A-W 4
KEWANEE — The St. Bede Bruins baseball team punched their ticket for a place in Saturday’s 2A regional championship game against Alleman, but they had to fight off Annawan-Wethersfield Thursday to do it.
The Titans tied the game twice and threatened to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning until they were shut down with two critical strikeouts by Bruins relief pitcher Mateo Sanchez for St. Bede to hang on for a 5-4 win.
“We’ve played better,” Bruins coach Bill Booker said. “But we also had some key hits at times. Our kids competed, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
Among the Bruins’ key hitters were Sanchez (2-3), newly signed Purdue Northwest prospect Kane Clendenen (2-4, RBI), and Dylan Grammer (1-3, 1 RBI).
Designated runner Kaile Williams did his job as well, crossing the plate in the second and fourth innings.
“That’s a great baseball team over there,” A/W coach Logan Willits said. “The coaches told me they’re very fundamentally sound, they’re gonna put the ball in play, they’re gonna field it well, and they did that today.
“I thought coming into today we had a generalized game plan to be aggressive, we were going to put a lot of pressure on them, and I felt we did that. Proud of my kids for their effort.”
The Bruins got on the scoreboard first in the second inning with a hit to center by Luke Story to send Williams home for a 1-0 lead.
The Titans answered in the third inning when a passed ball allowed Colton Quagliano to score and tie the game 1-1.
St. Bede regained the lead in the bottom of the third inning with a hit to center by Mooney to score Clendenen, then added to it in the fourth when Williams made it home on an RBI hit by Sanchez for a 3-1 Bruins advantage.
After a scoreless fifth inning, St. Bede starting pitcher Ben Bernabei was hit in the right hand by a line drive ball in the top of the sixth, prompting Booker to replace him on the mound with reliever Dylan Grammer.
“The ball hit him right where you didn’t want it to. So we taped it up and put him in left field,” Booker said with a laugh.
A disappointed Bernabei, who allowed eight hits and three runs (two earned) but notched six strikeouts over 5.1 innings, still felt he had a good outing up to that point.
“I was really amped up today,” Bernabei said. “I was nervous, because as a senior you never know when your last game is gonna be. I was throwing a lot harder today than I usually do.”
Grammer, however, had a tough time at the office, getting tagged with two A/W runs to tie up the score again, 3-3.
“I’ve never seen Dylan not throw strikes,” Booker said. “We’ve got to make sure he does or he’s on a short leash. We had four pitchers ready to go, ’cause you never know how the pitch count’s gonna work out.”
The Bruins’ bats came to the rescue in their next turn, with a center field hit by Clendenen scoring Sanchez and making it home himself on a passed ball at the plate, putting them back out front, 5-3.
After walking his first batter in the top of the seventh, Booker moved Grammer to first base and Sanchez from shortstop to the pitcher’s mound.
The Titans were able to get two on base, then score Ryan Goodman due to a bad throw to first get them behind only 5-4 with potential tying and leading runs on base.
But just like that, the Bruins’ defense came to the forefront again when Dominic Bima caught a fly ball in right field, and Sanchez threw back-to-back strikeouts to end the game and the Titans’ postseason hopes.
“I felt a lot of pressure and thought, I’ve got to get this now,” Sanchez said. “I had two curve balls for strikes, and that last one I thought he was gonna swing and he didn’t and my heart started pounding.”
Tough as the Titans were Thursday, Booker acknowledges that it will only get tougher with the Pioneers on Saturday.
“They’re good. They’ve won 23 games,” he said with a smile. “We’re gonna go out there and give it our best shot.”