Wesclin Warriors baseball John Groennert never pays any attention to the regional seeds or where his teams stands in comparison to anyone else in the conference or the area.
“Our goal every year is a regional, it doesn’t matter what we’re seeded,” said Groennert, whose fifth-seeded Warriors used a nine-run fifth inning Saturday to dismantle Althoff 10-1 in the Class 2A Althoff Regional championship. “We go into the season wanting to the win the conference, but the conference really and truly isn’t my No. 1 goal. We play the schedule that we play to get here, so we know when you get in a regional or sectional you’re not going to see anything that you haven’t already seen.
“The kids know that.”
Wesclin (17-12) moves on to the Teutopolis Sectional, where the Warriors will face the host Wooden Shoes at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“We want to prove something and show people what we’ve got,” said Wesclin senior Jarad Steenbergen, a McKendree University basketball recruit who remember the painful feeling of losing 5-4 to Althoff in the regional championship game last spring. “For most of us that are still on the team it’s still in the back of our mind. We saw some of the newspaper clippings from it and it still hurts.
“We wanted to come out and show what we had.”
Althoff (12-11) and Wesclin were deadlocked at 1-1 heading into the fifth when the Warriors kicked down the door,
An RBI single by Steenbergen off Althoff starter Rorey Keen (3-4) put the Warriors on top 2-1 before Keen hit Seth Nast and Jordan Groennert on back-to-back pitches to force in another run. Two runs scored on Mason Buzzard’s base hit to left, then Blake Bernhardt’s bases-loaded double chased home three more.
Our goal every year is a regional, it doesn’t matter what we’re seeded.
Wesclin coach John Groennert
“Today was the first time in a long time where we had some big two-out hits,” said Groennert, whose team swept Althoff in a doubleheader last weekend, winning 13-2 and 12-0. “We had two or three of them where guys stepped up in the clutch and came through for us. That’s what you need this time of the year.”
It also takes quality pitching and Wesclin got it from Nast, a sophomore. Now 3-1, Nast had worked only 20 1/3 innings all season before Saturday and was only starting because Warriors’ ace Jared Timmermann was out with an ankle injury.
Nast’s best moment came in the second inning, when he struck out three hitters in a row after Althoff loaded the bases with no outs.
“That was huge,” Groennert said. “Seth settled in and pitched a great game for us. He took it the distance, which I had no idea (he would). Going in I told him give me four good innings and we’ll go, but we were lucky enough to get out to a lead and he did a good job.”
Nast allowed only five hits and struck out 11 — only four fewer that his season strikeout total.
It’s been the story all year, we just haven’t swung the bats like we should. We were playing from behind again.
Althoff coach Randy Wells
Errors, walks and other mistakes — along with Wesclin’s opportunistic offense — all conspired to derail Althoff in the nine-run fifth. The Warriors sent 14 batters to the plate in the inning, which began with a Bernhardt single and a wild throw on a bunt by the Crusaders.
“In games like this it’s going to come down to executing what you have to execute,” Althoff coach Randy Wells said. “A botched bunt play and it just kind of opened the floodgates.”
Althoff also failed to capitalize on the bases-loaded, on-out opportunity in the second. The Crusaders got their lone run on a third-inning sacrifice fly by Gavin Strieker.
“Other than that (fifth) inning it was a pretty close game,” Wells said. “It’s been the story all year, we just haven’t swung the bats like we should. We were playing from behind again.”
Bernhardt was 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs and Jordan Groennert, who drove in the first run with a two-out hit in the third, had two RBIs. Darrell Combs added two hits and two RBIs.
This was Wesclin’s 10th regional in 19 seasons under Coach Groennert. Wesclin finished second in the state in 2006, then made it to state again in 2012 and finished fourth despite beginning the playoffs as the lowest-seeded team in the regional.
“A lot of times we’ve got losses and I’m all right with that, as long as we do what we need to do and work to get better at the end,” Groennert said. “It’s not how we start, it’s how we end. We’ve had years where we won 15, 16 in a row and you’re the No. 1 seed and lose the first game of the regional.”