BASEBALL: Bishop McNamara pulls away for first regional title since 2014
KANKAKEE —Reed-Custer’s baseball team started its season with a road game at Bishop McNamara, and thanks to some timely hitting and clutch pitching from the Irish, that’s where the Comets ended their season on Monday in the IHSA Class 2A Bishop McNamara Regional championship.
After falling behind 1-0 after an inning, the Irish scored seven runs during the third and fourth innings to knock off the Comets 9-4 and earn the program’s first regional crown in five years, its 23rd overall.
“It’s a great thing for these kids and for Bishop McNamara,” Irish coach Kurt Quick said. “It’s good to get a regional back — we have a lot of them, so it’s nice to get back on board and start getting regionals back here.”
After rain pushed the Irish’s semifinal game against Peotone back two days last week, it gave the Comets two extra days off, having last played in their semifinal Wednesday.
While baseball is a sport of routine and such prolonged time off could have a negative effect on that routine, Comets coach Jake Evans said that didn’t seem to be an issue early, as the Comets scored first with Noah Curl’s RBI double in the first inning.
“We came out in the first inning and things looked pretty good for us,” Evans said. “We could use that as an excuse, but at the end of the day, every time we made a mistake, Bishop Mac jumped all over it and that’s a credit to them.
“They’re a good team, a well-coached team and we wish them the best of luck moving forward.”
The Irish offense, which entered play having scored 90 runs in their past 90 games, got going in the third inning when Dom Koziol scored on a wild pitch to tie it at one with Broghan O’Connor at the plate. Later in the at-bat, O’Connor mashed a double off of the left-center field fence to plate a pair more and give the Irish a 3-1 lead.
That go-ahead hit was a little extra special for O’Connor, a senior who had his sophomore Daily Journal All-Area season sandwiched by torn ACLs that cost him his freshman and junior seasons.
“It’s great, there’s no other feeling like it,” O’Connor said. “It was pure happiness really.”
And the Irish bats weren’t done there. They added four more runs and sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth inning, scoring all four runs on back-to-back two-run singles from Tyler Hiller and Owen Jackson.
Jackson, who leads the area with nine home runs, has seen more walks and less pitches to hit as opponents have come to realize his prowess at the plate. For the junior backstop, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive in runs when he saw a pitch he could handle.
“I was real happy, because when I don’t get pitches, I can’t produce like I should,” Jackson said. “When I saw that pitch right down the middle, I had to get it in the hole and get those two runs in.”
The Irish put all of their runs up on Comets ace Josh Loomis during their second and third times through the lineup. After seeing Loomis in action when the two teams met on opening day, they knew what to look for the second time around Monday.
“He’s a really good pitcher, but we faced him early on, and I know it was the first game of the year, but I think the kids were mentally ready to go,” Quick said. “Seeing him early on helped our approaches and mentality — we were confident.”
And O’Connor said it doesn’t hurt to bat with capable hitters all through the lineup.
“It’s just nice because you don’t have to chase anything,” O’Connor said. “You can wait for the pitch you want to hit and if not, I can trust the guys behind me to produce. It’s just been a fun ride.”
The Comets were quick to answer with a three-run fourth of their own to keep the deficit at 7-4 in an inning highlighted by a Nate Smith RBI double.
“It’s tough to say that you expect that from high school kids, but it’s kind of what I expected,” Evans said. “I didn’t expect them to roll over — these guys are an experienced group. They love playing for each other, so I was very happy with the way we didn’t give him up.”
The three-run fourth chased Irish starter Andrew Arseneau off the bump, but reliever Preston Goodman entered and did his job. He allowed just two hits and two walks over the final 3 2/3 innings to pick up the lengthy save.
“I just come out here and do what I do,” Goodman said. “Coach tells me what to do, I just throw strikes for my team and do my best.”
After the Irish added a run in the top of the sixth, the Comets threatened with runners on the corners and one out. But Goodman manufactured a groundball to shortstop Hiller, who put a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play in motion.
“That was big,” Quick said. “Preston keeps everything low and has decent velocity for his size, so he’s a ground ball pitcher and it worked out.”
The Irish plated their ninth and final run in the seventh, which gave Goodman a comfortable five-run cushion when he faced the top of the Comets’ order in the seventh.
“It gave me a lot more confidence,” Goodman said of the late-inning run support. “And it feels great to have that plaque now.”
O’Connor, Jackson and Hiller all had a hit and two RBIs, while Hiller scored twice and Jackson added a run for the Irish. Dom Koziol went 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI. Max O’Connor and Connor Johnson each had a hit and scored.
Arseneau allowed four runs, but just one earned, on five hits and three walks to earn the win.
Smith went 2 for 2 for the Comets, with a double, a run and an RBI. Loomis also had a double for one of his two hits and added an RBI. Caleb LaGrange went 2 for 3 and scored a run.
The Irish will head to Seneca at 4:30 P.M. Wednesday, when they will face Chicago Christian in IHSA Class 2A Seneca Sectional semifinal action. The Metro Suburban Conference foes met twice in April, with each team earning a win.