ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Key pitching, fielding and hitting contributions by Troy Frick helped power the Trojans to a 3-2 extra-inning victory in Game 2 of a doubleheader against Halstead on Tuesday.
The Trojans won the first game, 10-3, to complete a sweep of the Dragons and finish the regular season with a 12-6 record and a seven-game winning streak.
Game 2 quickly turned into a pitching duel between Frick and Halstead’s top pitcher, Justin Calvin. Neither team posed a serious scoring threat until the Dragons touched Frick for two unearned scores in the bottom of the fifth.
With two outs, the Trojan junior hit a batter, then gave up a single and a walk to load the bases for Halstead. When left-fielder Justin Moore misplayed a a line drive by Calvin, two runs scored. But Moore’s throw to shortstop Dustin Jost and a relay to catcher Travis Riesen cut down a third runner at the plate for the final out.
Undeterred, the Trojans tied the game at 2-2 in their next at-bat when Adam Scheele smacked a home run after Chad Hughbanks had singled with one out.
With one out and two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth inning, Jost relieved Frick on the mound. The freshman got the second out on the infield-fly rule and the third one a fielder’s choice to end the threat.
Frick repaid Jost in the bottom of the seventh after the Dragons loaded the bases with one out. Playing third base, Frick speared a grounder, tagged the runner on third and then stepped on the bag for an unassisted double play that sent the game into extra innings.
Hillsboro scored what proved to be the winning run in the eighth off Halstead reliever Aaron Howard.
With one out, Chad Hughbanks and Scheele stroked back-to-back singles. After Moore struck out, Frick hit a drive that Halstead’s left-fielder misplayed, enabling Hughbanks to score.
Jost (3-0) earned the win with 22⁄3 innings of scoreless relief, but Frick’s performance for 51⁄3 innings was huge. The junior plunked three batters and walked two, but allowed only four hits and no earned runs while striking out four.
Though Howard absorbed the loss, coach Phil Oelke was pleased with the way his Trojans battled against Calvin.
“The good thing is we beat a kid as good as him,” Oelke said. “Now, I think we’re pretty confident (at the plate).
“We had our heads up,” he said. ” I think we knew deep down we were going to win.”
Game 1 contributed to that confidence as the Trojans pounded out 13 hits and took control of the game early with a four-run first inning.
Base hits by Jost, Frick, Riesen and Nuss, combined with a walk to Moore and an error on a ball hit by Lucas Hamm fueled the rally.
A home run by Halstead’s B.J. Bryant in the second inning cut the lead to 4-1, but the Trojans extended the lead back to four with a run in the top of the third.
Halstead mounted its last charge at the Trojans in the bottom of the third with a pair of runs. Calvin singled to drive in both of them after a walk, an error and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third.
Trojan starter Travis Riesen (4-1) shut the door the rest of the way to pick up a complete-game victory. He allowed only five hits and one earned run while striking out four and walking three.
“Riesen threw much better in Game 1,” Oelke said. “He’s still not throwing as many strikes as I’d like him to, but he kept the ball down.”
Hillsboro extended its lead to 8-3 with a three-run fourth inning, then added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Frick finished with a 2-for-4 game with three runs batted in, and Nuss went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs to pace Hillsboro.
Frick, who struggled to a .273 average a year ago, is hitting a team-leading .449 this season. His improvement mirrors the strides the Trojans have made this season after back-to-back three-win seasons.
“The guys played really well-in both games, actually,” Oelke said.
“Our pitching was unbelievable. Defensively, the great thing we’re starting to see is that in a given situation, guys are reacting without needing to be told what we want. They’re starting to learn the game.
“As a coaching staff, we feel very good about the lengths we’ve made this year,” Oelke said. “Teams that are on a roll going into regionals often surprise people. We might shake things up. You never know.”