JOLIET – With the way that Alex Vera was pitching and Nick Iannantone was hitting, the outcome of Thursday’s WJOL/Don Ladas Memorial Baseball Tournament quarterfinal game between Joliet Catholic Academy and host Joliet West was not in doubt for long.
Iannantone went 2 for 3 with two home runs and five RBIs, which included a three-run blast in the second inning to cap a five-hit frame that produced five runs. Left-hander Vera didn’t allow any hits after the first two innings and retired 12 straight with two outs in the seventh, as he finished with a two-hit shutout that featured 11 strikeouts in a 7-0 win.
As a result of the win, the Hilltoppers (7-1) advance to the semifinals at 11:30 a.m.Saturday against Plainfield Central, which beat Joliet Central, 6-0.
“This is Alex’s third year on the varsity, so he has all of the experience and so much confidence,” JCA coach Jared Voss said. “We had good at-bats and didn’t strike out a lot, and guys did a nice job on the bases. We’ve got a lineup that has a ton of varsity games, so as with teams I’ve coached in the past, it usually translates really well.”
After allowing a hit to the second batter he faced and then another to lead off the second inning, Vera only allowed two more hitters to reach base with one coming on an error in the third and the other after getting hit by a pitch with two outs in the seventh inning.
“Last year in the second round, we didn’t play our best and they beat us, and that was a tough loss,” Vera said. “After the [Brother] Rice game, we had a lot of momentum and came in and did our job. In the first couple of innings, I had some jitters and just had to settle in. I did my job and pounded the strike zone, and it felt great out there.”
In JCA’s second inning, Max Cullen (2 for 2) led off with a single, Zak Gould got hit by a pitch, and Dan Wuestenfeld doubled in two runs. Danny Allen got an infield hit before Iannantone homered to left field to make it 5-0. In the sixth inning, he hit a two-run blast to center.
“When Alex gets on the mound, he loves to compete,” Iannantone said. “He throws hard and is crafty, and in my opinion he’s one of the best pitchers in the state. And our defense is solid up the middle with Jared Cushing and Christian Knapczyk, and we’ve been hitting really well. We’ve worked hard all offseason, so they and I want it, and the program wants it.”
Tigers coach John Karczewski credited JCA for how it played in all aspects.
“[Vera] was struggling a little bit, and you have to come through in those situations,” Karczewski. “Once he found his rhythm, we struggled to get anything going after that, and they put the ball in play and have speed. This was a good test to see where we are, so we’ll be back. We welcome the challenge of playing teams like them, since if you want to win, you’ve got to beat the best.”