Tigers advance to 24th straight regional title game
HERSCHER — It turns out Herscher’s Tyler Stuart is human after all.
Stuart walked a pair of batters and hit another pair in the top of the first inning of an IHSA Class 2A Herscher regional quarterfinal game against Bishop McNamara on Wednesday night, giving the underdog Irish an early 1-0 lead.
But the Tigers gave Stuart the lead back with two runs in the bottom of the first, and Stuart hardly needed much help after that.
The senior hurler tossed a complete game, allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks to lead the Tigers to a 7-2 victory.
The Irish ended their season with a 12-13 record. Herscher improved to 29-7 and advanced to its 24th consecutive regional championship game under coach Eric Regez.
“They gave us a really good shot, the Irish did,” Regez said. “Their guys on the mound made it really tough for our hitters, and their defense made some plays to crush some of our rallies.”
Stuart, who had surrendered 10 walks all season coming into Wednesday’s action, had a bit of an atypical start. But after allowing four of the first five Irish batters to reach base, he settled in and retired seven of the next eight he faced.
“Things are a little bit different in the postseason. ... The intensity gets amped up a bit, and every play is magnified,” Regez said. “It takes a longer time to settle in, but once (Stuart) did, he pitched like he’s capable of pitching.”
Stuart and his fellow teammates were able to earn the run back and then some, getting on Irish starter Payton Gerberding early for four hits and a pair of runs.
For Stuart, the early offense was a sigh of relief after surrendering an early lead to the No. 8-seeded Irish.
“I knew (McNamara’s) seed wasn’t as good as they are. They’re a good team,” Stuart said. “They could have capitalized more, and that could have hurt really bad, but we got out of there with one run (allowed) and got some early runs and attacked.”
After Anthony Koranda drove in Tyler Jarnagin with a second-inning single, the Tigers extended their lead to 3-1 shortly before the Irish had their second legitimate scoring chance.
Owen Jackson laced a double to right-center field with two outs in the third, and Gerberding did the same on the very next pitch to score Jackson.
Irish coach Mike O’Connor said his team thought their tough Chicago Catholic League schedule gave them the confidence needed to challenge Stuart.
“The one thing that’s nice about playing in the Chicago Catholic League is that we’ve seen some pretty good pitching, and we weren’t intimidated,” O’Connor said. “I was impressed with (Stuart) today and have been impressed with his entire career. But we felt we could put the bat on the ball against him.”
McKinley Keenan racked up his second RBI of the game with a solo blast off Gerberding in the fourth inning, three innings after sending a ball to the warning track. Regez said his cleanup hitter and catcher had been slumping but appears to have started coming out of it at the right time.
“(Keenan) went in a little lull there for a while, but he’s such a good hitter we knew he wouldn’t stay there for very long,” Regez said. “Now is a good time for him to come out of it, and with guys on base, we want him up there with the game on the line.”
Stuart, McKinley, Kaden Hubly, Ben Koranda and Ryan Volk had two hits apiece for the Tigers, and Keenan and Koranda each drove in a pair. Stuart scored twice.
For the Irish, Gerberding went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Jackson went 1-for-2 with a run and an RBI. On the hill, Gerberding allowed five runs (four earned) on 10 hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings.
The Tigers are back in action at 12 p.m. Saturday in he Class 2A regional championship at Herscher. They will take on the winner of today’s quarterfinal game between Reed-Custer and Beecher.