It has been said that pitching and defense wins championships.
On a windy Sunday afternoon, pitching — and a little timely hitting — was just enough for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm to keep its Region 24 title hopes alive.
Sophomore Ty Stahl survived a shaky start to pitch six solid innings while freshman Collin Holton and sophomore Sean Murley each drove in a pair of runs as the Blue Storm defeated Shawnee College 6-3 in the third and decisive third game of their Region 24 opening-round series.
The top-seeded Blue Storm (30-16) trailed 3-0 after just 1 1/2 innings Sunday, but RBIs from Luke Bakula and Adam Bauer cut its deficit to 3-2 after three innings.
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Holton then gave SWIC the lead for good with a two-run single in the fourth inning and Murley provided some insurance with a two-run home run in the sixth, as the Blue Storm’s lead grew to 6-3.
Freshmen Tyler Herbert and Anthony Garza pitched three scoreless innings in relief and when Garza, a Belleville East graduate, got Kyle James to fly out to end the game, SWIC was back in the Region 24 Final Four.
“Was I ever concerned today? I didn’t have time to be concerned because it all happened so quickly. Ty (Stahl) struggled a little bit early and then we misplayed the two fly balls in the first inning. We hadn’t done that all year. I don’t know if it was the wind or what it was,’’ SWIC coach Neil Fiala said. “But we chipped away with a couple of runs and then we got the big hit from Collin (Holton) in the fourth and take the lead.
“Ty pitched well after the first two innings and then like it has been for most of season, our bullpen came in and did a great job. I was going to go with Zach (Sparks) in the ninth inning, but he (Garza) was out of the dugout and on the mound so quick, I decided to stay with him until somebody got on base in the ninth. Nobody did.’’
The win moves SWIC into the Region 24 double-elimination tournament in Marion, which begins Friday. The top-seeded Blue Storm will play at noon against a still-to-be determined opponent.
Taking advantage of a pair of outfield misplays, the eighth-seeded Saints jumped on Stahl for a pair of runs in the first inning then made it 3-0 in the second on an RBI single by Nick Shumaker.
But when Stahl got out of the inning by retiring the final two hitters with the bases loaded, SWIC was still in the game.
“That was a big moment of the game, because if they (Shawnee) get another hit or two in that situation it’s 5-0 or 6-0 and we’re in trouble even though it was still early in the game,’’ Fiala said. “Ty made some big pitches in that sequence and when we came back in the bottom of the inning and scored, we were still down 3-1. But we were in the game and had a little momentum.’’
After cutting its deficit further with a run in the third inning, SWIC took control of the game in the fourth.
Shwanee starting pitcher Clayton Carrico began the fourth by walking Dylan Johnson and when Jacob Monti reached on a throwing error, SWIC had runners on first and second base with nobody out.
Bakula then moved both runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt and Holton after followed with his two-run single, SWIC had the lead for good at 4-3.
Stahl, meanwhile, was in a groove.
The crafty left-hander from Parkway South High School retired 13 of 14 hitters at one stretch from the second to the sixth innings as his teammates went to work on offense.
With SWIC leading 4-3 in the sixth, Holton singled to lead off and went to second on a sacrifice by Adam Schnurbusch.
Murley, a top candidate for Region 24 Player of the Year, then turned on a Carrico pitch and hit it over the left-field fence for a two-run home run and a 6-3 Blue Storm lead.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.