New Athens coach Scott Wine wasn't as worried about the outcome of his team's game Monday against Griggsville-Perry as he was about who would pitch for the Yellow Jackets.
With junior ace Brandon Contratto unavailable, Wine turned to Nick Ozier and Ozier delivered in a big-time way as the Yellow Jackets thrashed Griggsville-Perry 8-2 in the Class 1A Springfield Super-Sectional at Lincoln Land Community College.
Ozier, a senior right-hander, allowed two first-inning runs but retired 17 of the final 18 hitters as New Athens advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1982.
"That first inning, they had a couple of hits and I was really frustrated," Ozier said. "I was like, 'Man, we can't give up two right there. Then they're just going to keep tacking them on.'
"But we battled. Our fielders played great; we had a couple of great plays in the field. And I just threw strikes. That's the biggest part of the game --not walking anybody. You've got to throw strikes. ... This is huge. It's the biggest game of my life."
The fast-working Ozier (4-6) allowed six hits, five in the first two innings, walked none and struck out six. Mixing his fastball and curveball, he retired 10 in a row from the second through the fifth before Kaleb Bradshaw singled with two outs in the fifth.
Ozier then finished strong, setting down seven of the final eight hitters, with junior Dylan Toedte making a circus catch in right field to end the game. New Athens players threw their gloves in the air and enjoyed a wild celebration near the mound.
The Yellow Jackets (19-17), who were 1-7 after eight games, will play Bluford-Webber at 10 a.m. Friday in the semifinals of the state tournament at O'Brien Field in Peoria.
Griggsville-Perry finished 25-9.
"It's hard to believe," said Wine, in his third season. "We've been on a roll. We're definitely playing our best right now."
Contratto threw more than 100 pitches Saturday as the Yellow Jackets defeated North Greene 8-1 in the championship game of the Carlinville Sectional. The victory was sweet, but it left Wine with a dilemma: Who would get the ball for the super-sectional?
"Up until we got here, I wasn't sure who I was going to throw," Wine said. "Nick's thrown well this year. He got beat 2-1 by Freeburg and 2-1 by Althoff --pretty good teams there. So I think I made the right decision to go with him today."
It didn't appear that would be the case in the first when the Tornadoes strung together four hits that produced two runs. Three of the hits were flares that only added to Ozier's obvious irritation.
"That first inning, I yelled out at Nick: 'Quit feeling sorry for yourself. Pick your head up. We're going to score some runs,'" Wine said.
Wine proved to be prophetic, too. The Yellow Jackets came back with one run in their first on senior Alec Wade's RBI single to right, and that built a foundation of confidence that carried the offense throughout the game.
New Athens scored in every inning but the fifth and finished with 15 hits. Every player in the lineup had at least one hit, with Contratto going 3-for-3 with a triple, a walk and an RBI.
Wade and seniors Charlie Rousan, Tyler Brandenburger and Tyler Meyer had two hits apiece. Ozier, Toedte and juniors Jimmy Kiefer and Lucas Mueller each had one hit.
"This is one of our best hitting performances I've seen all year," said Contratto, who played shortstop. "We got in the dugout (in the first) and we fired ourselves up right away. We scored that run and we knew we were going to come back.
"Now we've got to keep it going at state."
New Athens went ahead for good with three in the second against Bradshaw, who allowed six runs (earned) on 12 hits in 3 1/3 innings.
With one out, Mueller and Toedte singled. Rousan's double to right-center scored Mueller to tie the game at 2. After Bradshaw's balk scored Toedte to make it 3-2, Brandenburger came through with a sacrifice fly to right, extending New Athens' lead to 4-2.
The Yellow Jackets pulled away with a run in the third on Kiefer's RBI single, another in the fourth on Meyer's RBI single and two in the sixth on Contratto's triple and Wade's double, both against Mitchel Main.
By that point, the mood already was glum in the Griggsville-Perry dugout.
"The key to the game was we couldn't put a zero up for them," Tornadoes coach Mark Cheatum said. "And we had five hits in the first two innings and six for the game. You've got to give their pitcher credit. He came back and started throwing the way he's capable.
"And they just hit the ball. We haven't given up 15 hits in the last two weeks. Not only did they hit the ball, they crushed the ball. ... We'll play them again some other time and see how it goes."