PLAINFIELD – The Plainfield Central hitters spent the afternoon Wednesday getting good at-bats against Plainfield South senior right-hander Austin Marozas.
Finally, after a 41/2-inning scoreless duel between Marozas and Central sidearming right-hander Cade Thornberry, the Wildcats broke through.
Nate Haupt, the No. 9 hitter in coach John Rosner’s lineup, drove in the first run in the bottom of the fifth inning with a suicide squeeze bunt single, leadoff man Cam Cercone followed with a sacrifice fly to right field, and Central went on to win the opener of a key Southwest Prairie Conference series, 3-1.
“Their kid [Thornberry] threw his butt off,” South coach Phil Bodine said. “He’s not something you see every day with that delivery. I was especially impressed with the way he was mixing in the change.”
That change-of-pace pitch actually is a slider, the only pitch Thornberry throws besides his fastball. But when he spots his pitches as he did against the Cougars (11-4-1, 4-1), that’s plenty in his arsenal. He had a no-hitter through five innings, allowing two walks and hitting two batters during that span.
“Our coaches tried to mimic [Thornberry’s] delivery in practice,” Bodine said. “You can see how well that worked. You just have to tip your cap to him.”
“When he puts it where he wants to like he did today, he is hard to hit,” Rosner said.
Thornberry began throwing from the side as a junior. He was the closer last year, a starter this year.
“I was playing third base and throwing from the side to second and to first, and our coaches wanted to see me try pitching that way,” he said. “That’s how it got started.
“I’m excited. This was a great game. I was excited to pitch against Austin [Marozas]. We play on the same travel team.”
After Central (13-4, 3-2) took the 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, South began getting to Thornberry. Marco Escobar led off with a lineout to shortstop Cercone, who had made the defensive play of the game in the second inning, a backhanded, diving stop in the hole and a long throw to get Nick Enloe at first.
Nick Mayerhofer then singled over first base to break up the no-hitter. Mayerhofer stole second, and Konnor Ash singled to center to make it 2-1. Enloe also singled, and Trey Stewart lofted a long fly ball that Joey Michaud caught in deep left field.
“I thought maybe when it left his bat, it might have a chance, but the wind knocked it right down,” Bodine said.
“I was scared when he hit it,” Thornberry said. “I said, ‘No, don’t let him hit it out.’ ”
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Central’s David Ascencio left no doubt as he belted a solo home run well beyond the left-field fence to provide insurance and make it 3-1. It was Ascencio’s third homer in five days.
“It would have been nice to chase one run in the seventh instead of two,” Bodie said. “That home run was big.”
“David is just a monster,” Thornberry said. “He has the quickest hands I’ve seen. [Haupt’s] suicide was big, too. Our goal was to score first. The suicide was a game-changer.”
It was the first time Haupt has executed a suicide, but he said he would feel comfortable if called on again. The suicide squeeze came after Michaud and Brandon Callendar singled and Rocky Pascente sacrificed to set the stage. Callendar finished with two hits.
“We do the suicide in practice all the time,” Haupt said. “[Rosner] had faith in me, and I had faith in myself. I wasn’t surprised I got the sign. It was the right moment. Scoring first was big. If I’m asked to do it again, I’ll be ready.”
Rosner said it was evident early on that one run could be huge.
“It was exactly what you would expect,” he said. “Two good pitchers throwing well, the wind blowing in. We talked in the first or second inning that we had to play for one run. We work on the short game daily, and we were confident we would execute [the suicide] no matter who was up.
“It was big adding that second run, too. Cam [Cercone] had a great at-bat (eight pitches) and hit the sacrifice fly.”
Marozas went the distance, allowing five hits. He struck out three, low by his standards.
“We had good at-bats all day,” Rosner said.
Senior right-hander Nate Yusko worked the seventh inning for Central, allowing a walk and striking out the final batter.
“It was a good game, they just beat us,” Bodine said. “They played well.”
“It had the feel of a regional final or sectional game,” Rosner said.