The Hillsboro Hawks Varsity Baseball team made the trek out to Sauget, Illinois to take on Jefferson R-7 at GCS Ballpark on Wednesday May 12th. The change of pace playing on a turf field didn’t seem to bother the Hawks as they went on to beat the Blue Jays 5-2, with all of the runs coming in the first three innings.
The Hawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with two outs in the first, thanks to a string of doubles hit by Connor Jenkins, Austin Romaine and Noah Shuman, who went back-to-back-to-back. Romaine’s was just a few feet from being a home run, as he hit a ground rule double over the short fence in right, and Shuman hit the towering left field wall on the fly.
Eli Epley took the mound to start for Hillsboro in the bottom of the first. The righty allowed two runs on two hits with four strikeouts and one walk. Left hander Gabe King came in for relief after the fourth and finished the game by blanking the Blue Jays, allowing just a single hit and striking out four as well.
R-7 managed to tie the game up in the bottom of the first inning by capitalizing on a hit by pitch, followed by a double to put runners on second and third. The next batter hit a well-struck ball into left field to score two runs, but rounded first too hard. A heads-up play from left fielder Cruz Valencia caught the baserunner sleeping and he was able to throw him out before he got back to first. A 2-2 tie awaited the Hawks in the top of the second.
Jase Stewart tagged a first pitch single into right field and Valencia followed suit. They both advanced to the next base on a wild pitch, and with one out, all leadoff hitter Zach Whaley had to do was lift a ball to deep center field to score Stewart on a sacrifice fly and take the lead 3-2.
Epley got three outs on six pitches in the bottom of the second with ground outs hit to Andrew Brody at third and Bailey Heidbreder at second, as well as a three-pitch strikeout of his own.
The top of the third began with a single up the middle from Jenkins. Romaine flew out to center field on a deep fly ball, but Shuman hit an 0-2 missile to left field, clearing the left field wall and hitting the office building beyond it. The two-run bomb brought the score to 5-2 where it would remain for the rest of the game.
Both teams’ pitching staffs settled in after the top of the third and no more runs were scored. The only other dramatics came in the bottom of the seventh when the Blue Jays had two runners on after a walk and a hit by pitch. King made the first out with a strikeout, and then was able to end the game with a double play.
Head Coach Kevin Lucas spoke on his team ending the season with a win. “It was good to see us jump out early,” said Lucas. “We got another good pitching performance from Epley and King. They both did exactly what we needed them to do. Shuman obviously had a good night at the plate and Romaine also looked good too. This is a really good win for us leading into districts, hopefully we can continue what we were doing the first couple innings.”
Stewart also praised his pitchers, saying, “We wanted to get everything going this game, that way we are prepared for districts. Hitting-wise we jumped on the ball which I love to see, and hats off to [Epley] and [King] for shutting the other team down.”
The District Tournament is the focus of the team now. Valencia spoke on his team’s preparedness for the postseason. “Oh I’m ready,” said Valencia. “We’re going to compete big time. Today’s game we connected with three of our guys sending shots deep into the outfield. [Shuman] hit an absolute shot that gave us the energy we needed.”
Hillsboro had a rough start to the season, but recently seems to have found their groove. Their postseason begins Monday May 17th as they take on top-ranked De Soto at high noon.