BELLEVILLE — On the verge of an early exit, Southwestern Illinois College sophomore Derek Dillenberger found his change-up just in time Sunday in the NJCAA Region 24 baseball playoffs.
Dillenberger pitched a five-hit shutout and Matt Spradlin drove in three runs to lead a balanced attack as SWIC defeated Olney Central 10-0 in the decisive game of a best-of-three first-round series.
A graduate of Waterloo High School, Dillenberger walked the first two hitters on eight pitches in the top of the first inning.
But with relievers starting to get loose in the Blue Storm bullpen, Dillenberger settled down.
After retiring Olney's Troy Paris for the first out, Dillenberger got Tyler Ward to ground into a double play to end the inning.
"That's been the story of my year. I've struggled in the first inning and today I did again,'' Dillenberger said. "This was a big game for us and I guess I might have been a little nervous.
"It was just a case of settling in. I had a great change-up. Maybe the best I've ever had. I threw it a lot to keep the hitters off-balance and the defense was great."
With the win, Blue Storm (36-17) advances into the Region 24 finals, which begin Friday at Rent One Ballpark in Marion.
Third-seeded SWIC will take on second-seed Kaskaskia College at 3 p.m. in its first game of the double-elimination event.
Top-seed Wabash Valley will play fourth-seeded John A. Logan College at noon.
While Dillenberger escaped disaster in the first, Blue Knights starter Alex Holder wasn't as fortunate.
Two walks and an error by Holder loaded the bases with nobody out.
Spradlin and Adam Bauer followed with sacrifice flies, putting SWIC up 2-0.
And when Mark Hencken added an RBI single, Holder and as it turned out, the Blue Knights, were basically finished for the day.
"The first inning was the key to the game. Derek was close to being taken out when we turn the big double play and then we come back in the bottom of the inning and get three runs,'' Blue Storm manager Neil Fiala said. "Give Derek credit. He pitched a great game for us and we made all the plays on defense.
"(Shortstop) Sean Murley made three great defensive plays behind Derek and we were able to get timely hitting with guys on base.''
Dillenberger settled down after the first inning.
The Blue Storm left-hander retired 15 of the next 18 hitters, while SWIC's offense kept adding to its lead against four Olney pitchers.
Spradlin and Bauer added RBIs in the third inning, as the lead grew to 5-0
An inning later, the Blue Storm put the game away when three Olney errors and an RBI by Adam Schnurbusch led to three unearned runs for an 8-0 Blue Storm lead.
Dillenberger, meanwhile showed no signs of weakening on a warm May afternoon.
"Pitching in this game today, It means a lot to me. I wanted the ball and I wanted to be the one to pitch us on to the finals,'' Dillenberger said. "The sophomores felt like we had something to prove after we had such a bad season last year.''