Downers South’s bats come alive in win

Updated: June 1, 2011 8:06PM

With highly-touted right-handed pitchers Nick Burdi and Matt Wivinis on the mound, Downers South was tagged as the No. 2 team in the preseason, despite having an unproven, erratic offense. The Mustangs have since struggled to live up to their lofty expectations.

That is, until now.

Downers South showed how dangerous it could be when it knocked off No. 4 Plainfield North 6-4 in an exciting Class 4A Neuqua Valley Sectional semifinal Wednesday before a packed crowd in Naperville.

And it was the Mustangs’ offense – not their vaunted 1-2 pitching combination – that lifted them to Saturday’s sectional final against the winner of No. 1 Providence-Neuqua Valley.

“Hats off to our offense,” said Downers South coach Darren Orel. “Pitching has carried us all year long. It was great to see the offense step up today. … Everyone kind of forgot about us, we’ve gotten out of the limelight, which I think has helped us.”

It was the offense that staked the Mustangs (25-13) to a quick 4-0 lead after the first inning. And when Plainfield North (32-3) rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth inning against Burdi (6-1), it was the offense that snatched the lead right back.

With the game tied 4-4 and all the momentum shifting to Plainfield North, senior centerfielder Jacob Wolf hit an opposite-field home run to lead off the top of the sixth. Then after a one-out walk, senior second baseman Kyle Engel laced a run-scoring double, making it 6-4.

“We were real intense in the first inning, and it kind of died off after that,” said Wolf, a Miami (Ohio) recruit who finished 2-for-4 with two RBI. “After the home run, we got back in that intense mode again.”

After Downers South reclaimed the lead, Orel opted to relieve Burdi in favor of Wivinis, who pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits, to cement the victory.

As for 6-foot-4, 210-pound Burdi, a highly considered national prospect who missed a chunk of the season with an injury, he allowed two earned runs, eight hits, struck out six and walked one in five innings.

“This is my last year in a Mustang jersey, and I want to do something we’ve never done before, which is win a state championship,” said Burdi, a Louisville recruit. “We’re starting to click at the right time.”

After Downers South mounted a 4-0 advantage in the first inning, Plainfield North finally got on the board in the fourth on Evan Whaley’s two-run double following a costly Mustang error. Then senior first baseman Sean Renzi led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run to left field, and the Tigers tied the game on senior catcher Joey Pendolino’s run-scoring double over the third-base bag.

“I was happy with the way our kids battled back,” said Plainfield North coach John Darlington. “I felt like once we got it 4-4, we had the momentum.”

Then Wolf hit the home run.

“When Jacob hit the home run, it was easily the game-changing performance,” Burdi said.

Engel set the tone for the Mustangs, as he hammered the game’s first pitch for a double and went 2-for-4 with two doubles. Junior first baseman Nick Vanek went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

Whaley, Plainfield North’s leadoff man who missed some time with mono, came back to go 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI.

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