When the Valmeyer Pirates needed one pitch to help keep their season alive Wednesday, sophomore Cole Juelfs got the job done.
Juelfs got a two-out, bases-loaded strikeout to end the sixth inning, then pitched a scoreless seventh to pick up a save and preserve the Pirates’ intense 3-2 semifinal victory over Nokomis at the Class 1A Carlinville Sectional.
Juelfs had just walked Chris McQuire to loaded the bases after Valmeyer starter Easton Wallace (6-1) had walked B.J. Causse and Zeke Cassidy, all with two outs.
Nokomis’ No. 9 hitter Trevor Wright worked the count to 3-2 before Juelfs blew a fastball by him to maintain the Pirates’ 3-2 lead.
“At that moment I was just trying to throw a strike to get this batter our so we could start the seventh,” Juelfs said. “It was a lower hitter, so I was going to challenge him and see if he could hit a fastball.”
Wright couldn’t and Juelfs got the Pirates in the sectional championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday against either Okawville or Carrollton at Blackburn College.
Juelfs was one of six sophomore starters for the Pirates, a group that helped Valmeyer win a junior high state title.
“They’ve been in a lot of big games, these young kids, and they expect to win,” Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt said. “I don’t think they’re afraid of the moment. We’ve got a good mix, a good crew.
“These kids just seem to find a way to win. We take advantage of the moment and these kids ... I’m very proud of them.”
Down by a run, Nokomis (19-10) got a single to start the seventh by leadoff hitter Austin McDowell. Andrew Herpstreith, hitting over .500, was up next and with McDowell running, hit a soft liner to Juelfs on the mound before Juelfs fired to first to complete a momentum-sapping double play.
“The thing about the sixth was getting a couple people on base to get back to the top of the lineup,” Nokomis coach Brian Pesko said. “I thought about bunting Herbstreith there, but when a kid’s hitting .520 I just couldn’t do it. He battled at the plate and probably swung at ball four a couple times.
“I played to win, not to tie.”
Ryan Archibald also singled for the Redskins with two outs in the seventh, but Juelfs retired University of Louisville pitching recruit Reid Detmers on a fly ball to center.
The Pirates’ celebration was nowhere near as intense as last Saturday, when they won their first regional title in 45 years. That’s because they know they’re still in business and still have more baseball to play.
“It means a lot to the town,” Valmeyer senior catcher Mark Nappier said. “Hopefully we can get the sectional championship. I know it’s going to be a tough road on Saturday, but hopefully we can bring some hardware back.”
Valmeyer grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Jake Krekel singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Wallace. The Pirates seemed on the verge of a big inning, but Wallace was thrown out at the plate trying to score from third on a fly ball to shallow center as the Redskins converted a double play.
Nokomis tied it in the first on an RBI single by Brendan Friesland, but the Pirates got two more runs in the third.
Back-to-back triples by Michael Chism and Wallace made it 2-1 and then Nappier scored all the way from second base on a wild pitch when the catcher failed to locate the ball in time.
Nokomis cut the lead to 3-2 in the third on Herpstreith’s triple and an RBI groundout by pitcher Ryan Archibald, but Wallace and Juelfs held the Redskins scoreless the rest of the way.
“They had a couple strong middle hitters,” Wallace said. “I just tried to work around them but still pound the zone, throw a lot of strikes and get them out.”
Detmers, who struck out 17 in the regional final, relieved Archibald (8-3) to start the sixth and struck out five in two innings.
Reinhardt was happy his team already had the lead before Detmers took over..
“You knew that lefty (Detmers) was coming in and we were up 3-2 when he came in,” Reinhardt said. “That’s huge. I was like ‘Please don’t tie it,’ we wanted too keep that lead. He’s the real deal.”