EFFINGHAM — Taming the potent Triad High bats like few pitchers in recent years, Mount Vernon junior Brock Fulkerson needed just 1 hour, 9 minutes Monday to nail down a 2-1 victory in the Class 3A Effingham Sectional championship.
Triad had just five hits, including three in a crazy sixth inning that saw the Knights hit into a rare double play that took the sting out of a potential rally.
"He stepped it up when the big games have come along and he stepped it up again today," Mount Vernon coach Tim Holloway said of Fulkerson (11-2). "That's a tough lineup. I rank them up with one of the toughest lineups we've seen all year and to do what he did today was just outstanding.
"He missed (bat) barrels. We knew they were going to hit it, but he pitched to soft contact, he located and did exactly what we needed him to do."
It was the first sectional title since 2001 for Mount Vernon (30-8-1), which will face Bloomington (28-10) in the Sauget Super-Sectional at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Triad's season ended at 27-12.
Triad's sixth inning started out promising despite a 2-0 deficit at the time. Tyler Derleth and Lucas Criley reached on singles and Dalton Johnson followed with an RBI single to left that cut the Rams' lead to 2-1.
That brought up Triad senior slugger Keaton Wright, one of the most prolific hitters in school history and a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit.
Wright, hitting .434 with seven homers and 38 RBIs before Monday, hit a hard shot to short and Mount Vernon shortstop Matthew Williams didn't just make the play.
Williams tagged out Criley, who arrived about the same time the ball did, then threw to first to complete a rare double play.
"It was a little bit bizarre," said Triad coach Jesse Bugger, whose team beat Mount Vernon 3-1 on March 22. "As a runner you're going on contact and you've got to stay out of the double play. The infield was slow today...just everything kind of lined up perfect for them on that particular play.
"The guy was in the right place at the right time and made a nice play. He caught the ball and tagged him pretty much all at the same time."
Given a reprieve, Fulkerson retired Cody Massey on a groundout to the first for the third out.
"That was probably the inning," Bugger said. "That was probably the golden opportunity, first and second and you've got Keaton up there. You like your chances most of the time in the last four years (with him). It didn't work out today."
Triad starter Jakob Thomas (7-3) ran into a two-out problem in the third as the Rams grabbed a 2-0 lead.
Thomas hit Jake Pike with a pitch, then walked Landon Thomas to load the bases before Collin Young stroked a two-run single to left.
Thomas also pitched well, allowing just one hit in the other five innings and three hits total.
A throwing error and a groundout got Triad's Lucas Infanti to third base with two outs in the seventh, but Fulkerson got Jared Crutcher on a grounder back to the mound to end the game.
Mount Vernon has allowed only two runs in four playoffs games with two shutouts.
"We call the games, but it doesn't matter unless your pitcher can put it on a dime and (Fulkerson) does it every game," Holloway said. "He's got several pitches that run every direction and to be able to locate the way he does is pretty special."
Other than the sixth inning rally, Triad's only hits were a one-out double by Johnson in the first and a fourth-inning single by Massey.
The Knight seemed poised to break the game open in the sixth, but Williams got in the way with the defensive gem at short.
"That one right there may have saved the game," Holloway said. "He makes the great catch and then has the ability to recognize the situation, tag the kid quick and get rid of the ball in a hurry and get the double play. That was a huge play.
"He's a golfer, he doesn't loose his cool. He's pretty heady out there."
Triad's seniors have helped the Knights compile a 110-46 record over the last four season with four regional titles, two sectional titles and a fourth-place finish at the 3A state tourney last spring.
"We have a lot of kids that have been in the program for a long time now that started for three or four seasons," Bugger said. "We've gotten a lot of mileage out of these kids the last few years ...it was a pretty good run this year. We'd like to have gone a little bit farther, but we can't complain too much about the kids we've had around here."