No. 3 St. Edward foiled No. 2 Westminster Christian's plan by rallying for a 3-2 victory in a Class 2A Richmond-Burton regional baseball semifinal Thursday.
Warriors coach Jeff Moeller said his hope was to reserve ace pitcher Ryan Perez for the first three innings, get a lead, then bring the dominant left-hander in to pitch the final 4 innings.
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The plan was working early. Left-handed senior Dylan Scully opened the game by blanking the Green Wave for the first two innings. Offensively, Westminster Christian (18-12) grabbed a 2-run, first-inning lead, courtesy of Will Woodhouse's infield popup that fell untouched for a run-scoring hit and Luke Weston's subsequent RBI double.
St. Edward (19-16) put the plan awry in the third inning. Clay DeHaan relieved Scully but ran into immediate trouble. He walked Green Wave leadoff man Antonio Domel, and Michael Castoro singled one out later. DeHaan was then called for a balk, advancing the runners to second and third.
St. Edward freshman Jake LaFrenz, a left-handed hitter, capitalized by drilling a 2-2 fastball to the left field wall to tie the game 2-2.
"He's a good pitcher, had a good fastball," LaFrenz said of DeHaan (5-6). "I just wanted to put the bat on the ball, get a hit, bring in the baserunners."
With the go-ahead run on second, the Warriors brought in Perez. However, two of the hard-throwing senior's cut fastballs hit home plate on swinging strikes and got past the catcher. LaFrenz advanced to third on the first wild pitch and raced home with the what proved to be the game-winning run on the second.
"I'm not the fastest person," LaFrenz said. "I just looked and saw it keep trickling so I thought I'd take my chance."
"My cutter has a sharp, last-second break," Perez said. "I mean, the catcher has to know that, and as a pitcher I should let him know. He tried. He tried to get in front of them, but they took weird bounces over his shoulder."
Perez was his usual dominant self from that point forward. In what proved to be the final high school outing of the 2010 Class 1A state champion's four-year career, he allowed only 1 hit in 4.2 innings, walked 2 and struck out 12. He finished the season with 142 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.92 in 68.2 innings.
St. Edward junior pitcher Jacob Koehring (7-3) protected the 1-run lead by matching Perez zero for zero. The left-hander shut out the Westminster offense for the final six innings, though it was often a high-wire act. Koehring left Warriors stranded at second base in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, and he left the tying run standing at third base in the sixth by inducing a groundout to second base.
"Lots of pressure, but it's such a relief when you get a groundout and your teammate makes the play," said Koehring, who used his curve and changeup to notch 5 strikeouts. " This was a huge game for me," I know almost everyone on their team. There are kids that played on my travel team, kids I've played with my whole life."
Koehring allowed a leadoff hit to John Wawro in the seventh, and the runner advanced to second with no outs when a pickoff throw from the catcher was dropped by LaFrenz at first base for an error.
However, Koehring induced a shallow flyball to right field from the No. 9 hitter for the first out, he snagged a popped-up bunt attempt for the second out and got a groundball to shortstop Antonio Domel to seal the victory.
The win advances St. Edward to the regional championship game against No. 1 Richmond-Burton on Saturday at 11 a.m.
"It feels real good," first-year St. Edward coach Tim Dovichi said. "We faced one of the best pitchers in our area and we go out and match him pitch for pitch like Koehring did? I mean, you've got to be proud of that. Either of us could go and compete Saturday. It just fell our way today."
The loss concluded a year of flux for the Westminster Christian program, which started four freshmen against St. Edward. The ambidextrous Perez was limited to pitching left-handed only due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last fall, and the program endured the unexpected January transfer of Arizona-bound pitcher Kevin Elder, who the IHSA later ruled ineligible to play for Burlington Central.
"What team has gone through more adversity before the first ball was ever rolled on a gym floor than we did?" coach Jeff Moeller asked. "We lost two nationally ranked arms. It's very hard. I'm real proud of the seniors. They did a great job. Even the freshmen. We're asking a lot out of those guys. Our middle infield are freshmen. That's asking a lot."