BASEBALL: Focken’s 400th win gives Cissna Park a regional crown
GRANT PARK — A three-run first inning propelled Cissna Park to a 5-2 victory to claim the IHSA Class 1A Regional championship at Grant Park on Saturday morning.
The regional championship is Cissna Park’s first since 2014 and also coincided with Timberwolves coach Darryl Focken’s 400th career win.
“I kept it a secret from the kids all day,” Focken said. “The kids didn’t know about it until it happened, but getting 400 wins is special to me.
“Even though I’ve been doing this for as long as I have, the nerves got to me a little bit today thinking about all the different ways this game could have gone. But I’m proud of the way the kids finished.”
Cissna Park improved to 17-11 on the year, while Grant Park ended their season at 11-11.
The Dragons were aggressive to start to the game, both swinging the bats as well as on the bases. That aggressiveness led to Will Schneider bringing Sawyer Loitz home to score the game’s first run and give Grant Park an early 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for the Timberwolves to answer though, as Keegan Boyle blasted a solo home run a few pitches into the bottom of the first inning to tie the game at 1-1.
“I’ve been swinging the bat well this year and last time we played here my teammate hit two home runs,” Boyle said. “So I had a good feeling I was going yard today and I almost called it, but I didn’t want to jinx myself.”
Sophomore Grant Park pitcher Clayton McKinstry walked Baily Sluis in the next at-bat and after stealing second base, Mario Renteria singled to plate Sluis to put the Timberwolves up 2-1.
“Mario has had a great career and has usually hits the ball well,” Focken said. “He just struggled to hit this year for whatever reason, but it was only fitting to see him break out of his slump today in such a big game.”
Will Petry would hit an RBI single later on in the inning to score Renteria, pushing the lead to 3-1 after one inning.
Although it appeared early as if Saturday’s affair would feature plenty of offense, Cissna Park freshman Damian Renteria and Grant Park’s McKinstry locked in to keep the runs lows the remainder of the game.
Damian Renteria only surrendered one more run on the day, when Andrew Fulk plated Schneider to cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning.
“Only being a freshman, this is a new experience for me,” Damian Renteria said. “I thought this was one of my best performances of the year and it feels great to do it in the regional championship.”
McKinstry sailed all the way to the bottom of the sixth inning before the Timberwolves would score again. He said his mental approach helped him settle down after a tough first inning.
“I knew I had to stay composed after giving up that first homerun early,” McKinstry said. “I wasn’t worried too much about it, I just wanted to keep my form, not get frustrated, avoid whipping the ball in the zone and just focus on hitting my spots.”
Mario Renteria, one of the Timberwolves’ senior leaders, said the past four years paid off with Saturday’s win.
“This regional championship means so much to me after putting in four years of hard work with my teammates,” Mario Renteria said. “This is something I’ll remember forever.”
For the young Dragons, they will only graduate two seniors from this years team, but for coach Desi Desiderio, those two seniors are irreplaceable.
“Lane Thiesen and Will Schneider have been outstanding for me all four years,” Desiderio said. “They both are all-conference and all-area guys. They have been an integral part of our program for so long, it’s gonna be really different not having them around next year.”
Damian Renteria threw a complete game, giving up five hits and two runs while striking out five. Mario Renteria finished 3 for 3 with an RBI.
McKinstry pitched six innings, giving up eight hits and five runs while striking out 10 batters.
The Timberwolves will take on Mt. Pulaski in Danville on Wednesday in the IHSA Class 1A Scharlman Sectional, with first pitch slated for 6:30 p.m.