Hampshire junior Michael Merchut and Whip-Purs' baseball coach John Sarna each said Wednesday that the hardest playoff game is the first one.
The Whip-Purs overcame a slow start by scoring four times in the fourth inning -- they didn't have a hit before the inning -- to defeat No. 5 seed Wheaton Academy, 4-1, in the Class 3A Burlington Central regional semifinals.
"We were just a little tight, first-round jitters," Sarna said. "Once we settled down, I thought we had better approaches at the plate."
No. 1 seed Hampshire (16-16) will play either Burlington Central or Marengo in the regional title game at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Whip-Purs had four baserunners in the first three innings, including reaching on 3 Warriors errors, but did not have a hit against Wheaton Academy starter Austin Ebeling (2-5). Tyler Crater led off the bottom of the fourth with a single to left. Brandon Wescher followed with a single to right. After a sacrifice bunt, Merchut singled up the first-base line to bring in Crater and Wescher for a 2-1 Hampshire lead. Brandon Bowen added a sacrifice popup to the second baseman just into the outfield grass and Piotr Barnas had a run-scoring single to give the Whip-Purs a 4-1 lead.
"I just slapped it past the first baseman and got two RBIs," Merchut said. "I was just trying to keep it to the right side."
The Warriors (7-20) got their run in the third inning. Sam Perna doubled to left to drive in Luke Kram, who led off with a single. Those were 2 of just 3 hits for Wheaton Academy. The Warriors committed 5 errors in the game.
"We're a pretty good team. We just have those innings where we make those mistakes," Warriors coach Brad Byrne said.
Hampshire starter Michael Dumoulin (5-2) went 6 innings, giving up 2 walks, hit a batter and struck out 4. Wescher got the final three outs to earn the save.
Ebeling suffered the loss. The junior allowed 7 hits and 4 runs. He did not walk a batter and struck out 2.