Mount Pulaski drops to Farina South Central, Newark in state baseball tournament

Bill Welt
State Journal-Register

NORMAL — Any defensive lapse can easily lead to a torrent of runs. Especially on a large stage such as the state tournament.

The No. 1-seeded Mount Pulaski High School baseball team committed one such mistake and subsequently gave up seven runs in the top of the sixth inning to fall to No. 2 Farina South Central 11-5 in the IHSA Class 1A state semifinals at Illinois State University's Duffy Bass Field on Thursday.

The Hilltoppers (21-3) ultimately settled for fourth place following a 6-2 loss to Newark (27-2) later in the evening, the program's first state trophy.

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"Losing this game in the semifinals doesn't change how I feel about this group or change what we've done," Mount Pulaski coach Joel Washko said. "We had some things that didn't go our way, especially in the top of the sixth inning. 

"I'm still just as proud of these guys."

The Hilltoppers' young defense misplayed a rundown along the third base line to leave the bases loaded with one out in the sixth. 

The Cougars (25-3) capitalized with four ensuing hits, including Sebastian Cowger's two RBI single to right field, to break the game open 11-2 after leading by just two runs entering the frame. They advanced to Thursday night's state final against No. 1 Glen Carbon Father McGivney and won the 1A state title with a 4-2 victory over the Griffins.

"We just didn't execute there," Washko said. "We had the guy in a rundown, and we just didn't catch the ball. That's what it came down to. When you're playing a team like that in the state semifinals and they're giving you an out, you have to be able to execute, and we didn't. Things kind of went off the rails after that."

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South Central also stole home plate and scored another run on a throwing error to first base in that decisive stretch.

Mount Pulaski's inexperience led to the miscues, Washko said. The Toppers featured five sophomores — including starting pitcher Evan Cooper and catcher Jackson Fricke — and a freshman — third baseman Landon Smith — on defense.

"That's the thing, this is not an experienced team," Washko said. "We have our 10 guys who see the field, five sophomores and a freshman. Being in this type of game, it's not something they're accustomed to. Sometimes that's when some of those mistakes happen. 

"The young guys will learn from being in situations like that because they're going to play in other big games in the future."

Cowger had a team-high three RBIs for South Central. Chase Thompson and Chase Dodson each had three hits, two RBIs and two runs. Sam Rubin also had three hits for the Cougars.

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Drew Martin

Fricke provided Mount Pulaski's first hit in the fourth inning and the Toppers narrowed the deficit 4-2 with two runs in the frame. 

"We were able to build some momentum in the fourth inning and come back 4-2," said Mount Pulaski senior standout Drew Martin, who entered Thursday with a .525 batting average and finished the semifinal round with a double and RBI. "We came out the next inning, hit a double (in the fifth) but didn't get the run in and that led to a big inning coming into the next inning. That kind of killed our momentum there."

Senior first baseman Grant Davis delivered Mount Pulaski's first run with an RBI single to center field and Landon Smith reached home on an error by the third baseman during a stolen base attempt in the fourth.

"I struck out with the bases loaded (in the first inning) ... so I had to go up there and do something this time with a runner on," Davis said. "I thought it got us going. We couldn't capitalize but I thought it was a good momentum jump."

Mount Pulaski had five hits in the semifinal loss. Davis, Cooper and AJ Bailey also had one RBI apiece.

Grant Davis

South Central starting pitcher Chase Dodson totaled 11 strikeouts in the win but had six walks in addition to three hits and two runs allowed in five innings against the Toppers, who threatened with the bases loaded twice in the first and fourth innings but failed to produce any runs out of them.

Cooper took the loss in 5 1/3 innings with 12 hits and 10 runs (eight earned).

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"He was wild at times," Davis said of Dodson. "It was tough to read because he had a good curveball and changeup and he was a quick pitcher. He works fast, but when we were on our time, we walked all of the time.

"We were just one hit short in the fourth inning from busting it open. That's baseball, it's not always going to go your way."

In the third-place game, Smith and Cooper each had two hits. Fricke had a hit and two RBIs to end the season.

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