For most of the first 13 innings of its Region 24 first-round baseball playoff series on Saturday with Shawnee College, anything that could go wrong did for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
But with one swing of the bat, freshman Dylan Johnson changed SWIC’s luck, the momentum and — at least for another day — perhaps saved the Blue Storm’s season.
A graduate of Triad High School, Johnson broke a 2-all with a two-run home run in the fifth inning and SWIC got solid relief pitching from sophomores Zach Lindsay and Zack Sparks to post a 6-4 win and even its best-of-three series at a game apiece.
Ranked 26th in the nation and the top seed in the Region 24 Tournament, SWIC appeared to be in trouble after Saints ace Brad Potts held the Blue Storm offense in check in the opener Saturday with a complete game 10-1 win.
And when SWIC was forced to go its bullpen early in game two, when Caleb Arbeiter suffered what is believed to be an injury to his right elbow with the score tied at 2, the Blue Storm needed a lift.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore Jake Daily singled off Shawnee starter Gavyn Ellet. Johnson then followed three pitches later with a line-drive home run which sailed over the left-field wall for a 4-2 lead over the eighth-seeded Saints.
“I told everybody that this region tournament was pretty even, really. If they (Shawnee) weren’t a good team, they wouldn’t be here,’’ Blue Storm coach Neil Fiala said. “That was a huge hit by Jake (Daily) to get on base with two outs in that inning. Then Dylan hits the home run to give us the lead. That changed the momentum of the game..’’
Daily and sophomore Adam Schnurbusch added RBIs in the sixth and seventh innings, as SWIC’s lead grew to 6-2.
Lindsay, a graduate of Mascoutah, made sure the momentum stayed with SWIC.
Taking over when Arbeiter exited after walking the lead-off hitter in the fifth inning, Lindsay worked 3 2/3 innings, giving up just two runs. Sparks then pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to get the save, as the Blue Storm (29-16) forced a third and decisive game on Sunday.
Game time is set for noon at SWIC, with the winner advancing to the Region 24 double-elimination tournament, which will be held in Marion, May 9-10.
“:It’s going to come down to whichever team executes the best. We’re going to go with our left-hander Ty (Stahl). He’s pitched very well for us all year,’’ Fiala said. “Anything can happen. Wabash (Valley) was the higher seed in its series too and they lost to Kaskaskia (College) in their first game today (Saturday).”
After sweeping the Saints in a three-game set during the regular season, SWIC may have entered the series as a heavy favorite, but Potts and Shawnee had other ideas.
SWIC ace Connor Buenger and Potts matched zeros through the first four innings before SWIC took the lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Schnurbusch led off with a single and scored two outs later on a hit by former Belleville West standout Adam Bauer.
But the Saints put together six straight hits off Buenger in the sixth inning to take a 5-1 lead. Colton Aldridge and Alex McRaven both had two-run doubles to key the Shawnee rally.
“We were right there with them. Connor (Buenger) just had the one bad inning where he lost it. That happens sometimes in baseball,’’ Fiala said. “He (Potts) pitched well against us, but we hit the ball hard the entire game. We just hit the ball hard right at people and they made some good plays.’’
But also getting a 4-for-4 performance at the plate from Luke Bakula in game two, SWIC managed to keep its season alive.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.