Triad earned its way to Joliet Route 66 Stadium and the IHSA State Baseball Tournament 90 feet at a time.
The Knights wore out a pair of Chatham Glenwood pitchers with 12 base hits in a 8-0 Class 3A super-sectional win at GCS Ballpark in Sauget on Monday. All but one of the Triad hits was a single, the exception being a Travis Heilmann home run that sparked the deciding six-run second inning.
The route punches Triad's ticket to the state semifinals in Joliet for the first time since 2012.
"We made it one time before, but it's exciting every time and never gets old," said Triad 11th-year coach Jesse Bugger, who led the Knights to a fourth-place finish six years ago. "I know I was in knots all day long thinking about it. I'm really proud for these seniors. They deserve everything they get."
The Knights (29-11) will face St. Ignatius College Prep at noon Friday in Joliet. Glenwood's season ends at 33-6.
Heilmann's home run, which towered over GCS Ballpark's 16-foot wall in left-center field and ricocheted off the office building beyond, was all the offense Triad needed. Starting pitcher Nick Beeler handled the rest, shutting out Glenwood on two hits while striking out six.
Still, the one-out blast opened the door to the Knights' station-to-station attack.
Triad proceeded to rattle off seven straight singles, with RBIs credited to Zach Kraabel, Beeler, Mack Langdon, and Hunter Boyd. Heilmann picked up his second RBI with a single in the fourth and Josh Messenbrink closed out the scoring by drawing a bases-loaded walk.
The hits didn't necessarily come easy for the Knights, who fouled off 15 two-strike pitches. In four of those six at-bats, the hitter reached base.
"We’re an aggressive team; we swing early in counts a lot, but once we get to two strikes, we want to fight and fight and fight until we get a pitch we can handle or go sit on the bench," Bugger said.
Triad's offense had to scratch out an extra-inning with just four hits in the Centralia sectional final against Columbia. It gave Beeler better support Monday, though he didn't really need it.
The win was the big senior's fourth shutout of the season and second in row after striking out 12 Marion batters in the sectional semifinals.
Bugger said Beeler's recent run of success falls due to a hard-breaking curveball and slider he's mixed well with his fastball. Glenwood coach Pat Moomey called Beeler's breaking pitches "devastating."
“Any level, when you can pitch backward — when you can get off-speed pitches over in fastball counts — is really tough," Moomey said.. "At the high school level, it can be devastating."
The Titans threatened in the fourth when Kyle Werries drew a walk to lead off the inning and Luke Lehnen followed with a single. After a fly out and fielder's choice, Glenwood had runners at the corners with two out. Beeler got out of the jam by coaxing a fly ball to right field.
Glenwood also wasted a one-out double by Jake Jurgens in the fifth, which Beeler negated with a pair of swinging strikeouts.
Bugger said he knew Beeler would be at his best, even before the game started.
"It was really biting hard and it kind of made us grin in the bullpen, me and the catcher," Bugger said of Beeler's curve. "We thought this was going to be a pretty good night."
The win also marked the Knights' seventh win in row, and 10th out of their last 11 games.