Baseball: Nelson’s walk-off lifts DeKalb past Kaneland

Down to his last strike and the potential winning run at second base, Nik Nelson wanted an outside fastball.

After taking one pitch, the DeKalb junior second baseman got what he was looking for.

Nelson hit the two-out, two-strike fastball from Kaneland reliever Evan Ross into left centerfield, scoring Ruari Bengford and giving the Barbs a 2-1 win over the Knights on Saturday.

“I was able to get a fastball outer half and drive it to center field to end the game,” Nelson said. “You have to trust the work you put in the offseason. I was in two-strike counts I think every prior AB in the game, so you just have to trust yourself, trust your hands and compete.”

The victory made a winner out of Jackson Kees on the hill for the Barbs (9-3). The junior starter scattered six hits, allowed two walks, and struck out seven in the compete game. At 99 pitches, he would not have come back to pitch the eighth inning had the Barbs not scored.

Nelson made sure the Barbs wouldn’t have to go to their bullpen.

“Jacks Kees on the mound, he shoved per usual,” Nelson said. “Think he’s going to be pitcher of the year. Every day we come out with a different kind of confidence when he’s on the mound. It’s just easy to field behind him.”

The Knights (4-3) broke through first in the fifth when No. 8 hitter Dylan Borysiewicz walked, stole second, then scored on a single by No. 9 hitter Tom Thill.

Thill ended up on second but Kees got the next three batters to keep him from scoring.

“You could tell Jackson was ready to go from the start, and the kids really bought into that, how he was feeling,” DeKalb coach Josh Latimer said. “I thought we played a great game. ... For these boys to be able to come back and win the game in the bottom of the seventh, I thought we played phenomenal today.”

In the third, Borysiewicz singled with one out then Thill doubled, but Kees escaped that without allowing a run.

Thill was 2 for 3 and had the only multihit effort for either team.

“They’ve been kind of setting the table for us,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “Those two guys have been doing a good putting the ball in play. Borysiewicz has been doing a good job finding the ground in the outfield and Tommy’s just been moving the ball around. They’re both seeing the ball well right now. It’s nice to have that at the bottom of the lineup.”

DeKalb tied things up in the bottom of the fifth. Ruari Bengford struck out, headed back to the dugout and only in a delayed fashion started running toward first on the ball that got away from catcher Zach Konrad. The throw was offline and Bengford reached.

Then with two outs, Brodie Farrell launched a triple into the left field corner, plating Bengford to tie the game.

The unearned run was the only one allowed by Kaneland starter Alex Schiefer, who struck out nine and walked five in 5 1/3 innings. Aversa said he saw a lot of good things from Schiefer on the hill.

“It was a battle,” Aversa said. “Kees pitched well, Alex pitched well. It came down to a couple mistakes and they took advantage of it. We really shot ourselves in the foot and they took advantage of it. But it was a great game through and through. ... Give them credit, but that game could have kept going for a while. Should have, probably.”

It was the second one-run loss in as many days for the Knights, who lost Friday night against Wheaton Academy, 4-3, in a game they led 3-2 in the top of the sixth.

“These are all opportunities to learn and get better,” Aversa said. “We see their best, we saw Wheaton’s best last night. It’s just what we’re going to face a lot this year and it’s just going to prepare us for conference and the postseason. We’re happy for the opportunity.”

Ross came on in the sixth after Schiefer hit the pitch count, immediately inducing a double play after Schiefer walked the last batter he faced.

He got the first two outs in the seventh before Bengford’s double to left field. He got the first two strikes on Nelson and Aversa said he thought the ball could have been called a strike to end the inning.

It wasn’t, and then Nelson launched his winning hit. The throw from Parker Violett was online, but Bengford slid around the tag to score the winning run.

“If he’s going to let that thing go, and it’s not going to be called a strike, then it’s probably a ball,” Latimer said. “He’s got a great eye up there. I told the guys I believe in my heart Nik’s going to win this thing for us even with two strikes. ... My only thing is I thought he was going to pull it down the right field line instead of going to left-center.”

It was the fourth straight win for the Barbs, whose three losses this year are by a combined seven runs.

“If you come out here and compete every day anything can happen,” Nelson said. “If you keep competing you’re going to find a way to win. We have a good group of guys and we can make a run this spring. We just have to keep balling out, really.”

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