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  • Morris Daily Herald

    Baseball: Lucas Rink, Wilmington storm into Supersectional by toppling Herscher

    By Steve Soucie,

    19 days ago

    BEECHER — In last weekend’s regional championship game, Wilmington’s Lucas Rink gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw against Coal City.

    In Saturday’s Class 2A Beecher Sectional title game, things didn’t start a whole lot better for Rink against Herscher.

    Rink issued a free pass to Tigers’ lead-off hitter Gaige Brown and then Tanner Jones lashed a double off the fence. The throw back into the infield eluded the Wildcats, allowing Brown to scamper home with a quick first run.

    But just like last week, Rink gave his opponent some extremely false hope.

    He struck out the next three batters to strand Jones at third and then proceeded to retire 21 of the next 22 batters he faced, surrendering only a single to Brown in the third inning over the course of the rest of the game as Wilmington pieced together more than enough offense to collect a 5-1 win.

    The victory lifts Wilmington (26-1) into Monday’s Geneseo Supersectional where it will face Peoria Notre Dame at 1 p.m. Peoria Notre Dame won the Illinois Valley Central Sectional title with a 2-0 victory over Illini West.

    “I guess I have to try a longer warm up, get in the flow of things,” Rink said after being asked about his isolated first inning troubles. “I don’t know. Maybe its first inning nerves. I don’t feel nervous, maybe I’m just getting it out of the way.”

    After surrendering that first run, Rink blazed through the next three batters, all via strikeout, the first of the 10 he’d record on the day. Just two balls left the infield after the first against Rink, both harmless fly balls that Jake Castle corralled easily.

    “With that kid, you just let him go, you let him be,” Wilmington coach Mike Bushnell said. “He has come a long way. He and Kyle (Farrell). I think back to when they were freshmen and we had them out there in a regional game against JCA, so from there to here.”

    Wilmington wasted no time in responding to Herscher’s early salvo.

    Things started auspiciously for the Tigers (23-14) defense when a infield fly was mishandled and allowed Ryan Kettman to reach and Rink followed with a clean single. Cade McCubbin then rattled the fence with a double to score both Kettman and Rink.

    Although Herscher starter Payten Young walked Farrell, he too settled in and retired the next three batters to stave of the rally. But the 2-1 deficit incurred would never be something Herscher threatened to overcome.

    Wilmington added insurance Rink wouldn’t need in the bottom of the third.

    McCubbin lashed a one-out single and was taken off the board on a potential double play ball that Farrell beat out on the back end to keep the inning alive for the Wildcats. In stepped Zach Ohlund, who fought off a number of Young’s pitches before he finally got one he liked and drove it over the left field fence for a two-run homer.

    “I was just trying to get a good pitch and he finally threw it to me,” Ohlund said. “I just barreled it and it kept going. It felt great off the bat.”

    Meanwhile, Herscher was struggling to put anything together against Rink and Rink was quick to point out that it was not a one-man effort.

    “I was locked in and just cruising right through,” Rink said. “I can’t thank my defense enough. Herscher’s not a bad team. They put the ball in play, but I’ve got defense behind me. We got outfield catching fly balls running everything down and the infield, they are making every play. I just can’t give them enough credit. It’s great to have a defense like that.”

    Wilmington is now one win away from returning to the state tournament for the first time since a 2004 Class A title run. The Wildcats also won the Class A 2002 crown.

    And Bushnell thinks there’s a bit of a common thread that runs through his own team and the one from back in Wilmington lore.

    “I think there’s a lot of trust and resiliency with this group,” Bushnell said. “These guys love playing together. They’ve been playing together a long time, since they were little kids. There’s not much you have to say, they hold each other accountable. They give it everything they got and someone always finds a way to get the job done.”

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