LANARK – Polo threatened in the top of the first inning of the 1A Eastland Regional semifinal against Newman on Wednesday, but Newman starter Elias Henkel worked his way out of the jam with no trouble.
Newman threatened in its half of the first, and were able to get runs on the board, a difference that came up big as the Comets held on for a 5-3 win.
Three batters into the game, things were looking rough for Henkel as Polo loaded the bases.
Lucas Hammond reached on an error, Justin Young doubled into the gap in right-center, and Cole Faivre drew a walk. But Henkel (2-1) struck out Tucker Mumford, Ramsey Shroyer and Brady Clark. Though it took him 27 pitches, he got out of the first inning with no runs on the board.
“Coach said going in to just take it as another game,” Henkel said. “We struggled at first on defense, but then took some deep breaths and got out of the jam. ... Once I got out of the first inning, Luke Olson told me to just stay relaxed and do your thing.”
In the bottom of the first, the Comets’ lineup spotted Henkel a lead. After singles by Olson and Ethan Behrens to lead off the inning, Brycen Bartel hit a three-run opposite-field home run, crushing the first pitch he saw over the fence in right-center.
“I just saw a good pitch on the outside half of the plate, so I tried to wait back on it and take it the other way,” he said.
Given the lead, Henkel settled in. He needed just 10 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 second inning. Polo got on the board in the third as an infield single from Faivre brought Hammond home, but Henkel was back in control in the fourth, retiring the first two hitters on groundouts and working around a two-out walk.
“Elias has done a great job of growing from the beginning of the year this year,” Newman assistant coach Dan Crawford said. “His first game of the year, I think he threw 12 pitches and walked three kids and he was done. Now he’s taking that next step. He made pitches when he needed to make pitches.”
A solid as Henkel was on the mound, Shroyer nearly matched him on the hill for the Marcos. He pitched a complete game, striking out nine and issuing just one walk. He needed 30 pitches to get through the third inning, the only inning in which he threw more than 16.
That third inning saw the Comets add an insurance run, as Bartel blooped a single to shallow center field to drive in Luke Olson.
Newman (14-6) added another run in the fifth as Olson led off the inning with a solo home run to left.
“I just waited back and saw a changeup,” he said. “It was hanging, so I waited back and I drove it.”
Shroyer (5-4) was especially effective against the bottom half of the Comets’ lineup. While the top four hitters – Olson, Behrens, Chase Graham and Bartel – were a collective 7-for-10 at the plate, scoring five runs and driving in five runs, the bottom five in Newman’s order went 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and a double play.
“Ramsey’s a great pitcher,” said Young, Polo’s catcher. “He’s got a lot of gas and a good curveball. He’s a great pitcher.”
With Shroyer’s pitching keeping them close, the Marcos were able to threaten in the sixth. Gavin Zell reached on an error and Braiden Soltow drew a two-out walk. Henkel, having reached his pitching limit, was pulled in favor of Behrens, who allowed a single to Hammond and a single up the middle to Young, driving in a pair of runs.
“I was just trying to keep us going and get some runs in,” Young said.
Young went 4-for-4 on the day with two RBIs.
“He’s a senior. He didn’t want to be done,” Polo coach Jeff Sands said. “He’s been a stud for the last 3 years, and he showed up on the big stage and came up big and did just what Justin does. All of our seniors went out with nothing to hang their heads about. They went out very strong and battling.”
Olson came on in relief with runners at the corners, Young represnting the tying run at first, and promptly struck out Faivre to end the inning. Olson came back out in the seventh, getting Mumford to pop out in foul territory and striking out Shroyer and Clark to end the game and earn a save.
“I was just trying to establish my fastball early,” Olson said. “They weren’t catching up with my fastball at first, so I just kept throwing my fastball as much as I could, and then threw a curveball every once in a while.”
Polo (9-9) managed six hits in the game, but stranded nine runners.
“I think our hitters did a great job,” Sands said. “We were by far the underdog. That’s a No. 1 seed. They beat us by two runs in seven innings. I guarantee you not many people thought that was going to happen. Our hitters did a great job.”
Newman advances to face the winner of today’s semifinal between Eastland and Milledgeville.
1A Eastland Regional semifinal
Newman 5, Polo 3
Star of the game: Brycen Bartel, Newman, 3-for-3, HR, 3 RBIs
Key performaers: Ramsey Shroyer, Polo, 6 IP, 9 Ks; Justin Young, Polo, 4-for-4, 2 RBIs; Luke Olson, Newman, HR, 1 1/3 IP, save; Elias Henkel, Newman, 5 2/3 IP, 3 R, 1 ER, 5 H, 7 Ks
Up next: 1A Eastland Regional championship game, Newman vs. Milledgeville-Eastland winner, 11 a.m. Saturday