As the innings clicked by and the tension mounted, Willowbrook's baseball team rose to the occasion.
The Warriors simply followed their pitcher's lead.
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Powered by a stunning performance on the mound by Jake Cady, Willowbrook took two of three from Downers Grove South with Monday's 1-0 West Suburban Gold victory in Villa Park.
Matched against hard-throwing Iowa-bound right-hander Zack Burdi, Cady threw a 6-hitter with 1 strikeout and a walk. Gold-leading Downers South (23-5, 15-3) put a runner on base in every inning but only that one runner in each.
A two-out single by Kevin Raher kept the Mustangs' hopes alive in the top of the seventh, but Cady stranded him at second with a flyout to center to cap the win for the Warriors (13-9, 7-7).
"It felt a lot like a playoff game," said Cady, who needed 87 pitches to complete his second win on the season. "They've been our rival forever, and I've been pitching against them since freshman year. This was by far the best game. It felt great."
Burdi was perfect through three innings while striking out seven of the nine batters he faced. Willowbrook, however, put five runners on base over the next two innings and would have scored if not for stellar defensive plays by Mustangs center fielder Danny Spinuzza and Raher at third.
The Warriors finally broke through for the game's lone run in the bottom of the sixth when Steve Ferguson reached on a one-out infield single. After moving to second on wild pitch and to third on a passed ball, Ferguson came home on Kevin Johnson's two-out single to left.
Fourteen players were stranded on base between both teams, but Willowbrook finally found a way to push across a run despite managing only 4 hits against Burdi, who struck out eight, walked four and hit a batter.
The Warriors received their own defensive web gems from Ferguson in left among others.
"Jake was great," said Willowbrook coach Vic Wisner. "He hit every spot and just executed phenomenal."
Splitting Saturday's doubleheader with Willowbrook meant the end to Downers South's 14-game winning streak. Now that the Mustangs have lost two of three to the Warriors, they need to turn things around quickly.
"They were just better than us today," said Downers South coach Darren Orel. "We're not good in tough situations. When it counts, our guys have shown that they cannot handle those tight, tough games. It's unfortunate. But they played better than us. They played better than us this whole series."
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