Baseball: Misplayed bunts haunt Aurora Christian in loss to Herscher
Updated: May 23, 2012 9:16PM
Despite all the success Herscher’s baseball program has had the past two decades, as of late that success has been dampered by losses to teams outside of the Tigers’ area in the playoffs.
The last four times the Tigers won a sectional title dating back to 2006, all of those postseason runs were ended by private schools from the Chicago area.
In Wednesday’s Class 2A Coal City Sectional semifinals, Herscher found itself in another one of those kind of games, staring down a loaded Aurora Christian squad in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history.
This time, however, Herscher got the job done.
A four-run sixth inning off of Aurora Christian ace Bobby Kuntzendorf fueled a 7-4 win, sending the Tigers to Saturday’s sectional title game against the winner of Thursday’s Chicago Christian/Wilmington game.
“We have had an inability to step out and beat teams outside of our area,” Herscher coach Eric Regez said. “We’ve had all of this success. When it comes time to step up and do things outside of our area, we’ve struggled. That was one of our first stepping out wins in a long time.”
The winning rally started off with a seemingly innocent leadoff walk drawn by Matt Weber. Herscher (31-7) then attempted three straight sacrifice bunts, but all three were thrown away by the Eagles (26-9), scoring three runs. Jordan Ruckman added an RBI single for insurance against the previously unbeaten Kuntzendorf (10-1).
“The leadoff walk was the key,” Regez said. “We were just going to bunt until they stopped us, that was the theory there, and they didn’t stop us until we were able to score three runs.”
The Tigers got to Kuntzendorf early, scoring three first-inning runs on a two-run bloop single from Kyle Burton and an RBI double from Dalton Sproul.
But Kuntzendorf settled in after that, retiring 13 of the next 15 batters, including seven of his 10 strikeouts, to give the Eagles a chance to come back. They did just that, scoring an unearned run in the second and getting an RBI single from J.T. Baksha in the third, with Kenny McCracken belting an opposite field solo home run in the fifth to tie the game at 3-3.
But the Eagles didn’t take advantage of several early opportunities as Ruckman labored on the mound for Herscher. Aurora Christian left seven runners on base in the first three innings alone.
“We couldn’t capitalize early,” Aurora Christian coach Andy Zorger said. “I mean, we clawed back to tie it up, which was huge. We didn’t give in right away. The bottom line is that we gave them a couple too many outs and they took advantage of that.”
Weber (7-2) threw the final two innings for the Tigers in the win. He allowed an RBI fielder’s choice to Mitch Holtz in the seventh, but struck out the final two batters of the game with the tying run at the plate.
The loss for Aurora Christian brings and end to eight seniors’ careers, including Holtz and Jake Hanson — who were four-year varsity starters, and Kuntzendorf and Josh Haugen — three-year starters. Hanson and Holtz finished their careers with 99 wins.
“You just can’t say enough about their work ethic and their desire to lead the program in the right direction,” Zorger said. “I’m going to miss them big time.”