JOLIET – There is a good reason the Plainfield East baseball team, the No. 12 seed in the Class 4A Oswego Sectional, will be facing Plainfield South at 11 a.m. Saturday in the championship game of the regional South is hosting.
“I wish we were playing Saturday for sure, but they outplayed us offensively, defensively and pitching – in every aspect,” Plainfield Central coach John Rosner said Thursday after East scored eight runs in the fifth inning en route to a 12-5 semifinal victory.
The Wildcats (23-10), came in seeded fifth and had swept the Bengals in their two Southwest Prairie meetings.
That mattered not as East (22-15) is on the rise. South right-hander Austin Marozas, whom the Bengals will face Saturday, dominated them during a regular-season matchup. But the postseason can present a different scenario.
“Our defense has been good and our pitching has been pretty good, but our offense has woken up in the second half of the season,” East senior third baseman Jacob Knoebel said.
“We had struggled at the plate pretty much all year, and the bats finally came alive the last couple weeks,” East coach Adam O’Reel said. “Our game that went extra innings against [Plainfield] North gave us a boost, and then taking two the last week from Oswego East helped our confidence.
“It was a case where our kids had to find their roles, and once they did, it took over.”
Knoebel made several excellent defensive plays at third base and had three hits, including a double. He singled in two runs in the eight-run inning, and another scored on one of Central’s seven errors.
“When you make as many errors as we did [seven], you can’t win the game,” Rosner said. “But our kids played really well all year. We have any amazing group of seniors, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Knoebel hit in the 3-hole in the Bengals’ lineup. Dylan Carlson, who hit second, and cleanup man J.J. Zywiciel both had four hits, with two of Zywiciel’s going for two bases. He drove in two runs, Carlson one and Frank Bryan blasted a run-scoring double in the eight-run fifth.
“J.J. and Knoebel really broke it open, and Frank got that long double,” O’Reel said. “We have been awful all year with the bases loaded, but we were better today.
“Dylan Carlson has earned his role. He sat a lot early on, and he never complained and kept working. He’s now our spark plug.”
Zywiciel said his success Thursday may have happened in part because he did not play in a previous game against Central.
“I didn’t play against them the last time, so they probably didn’t have much on me,” Zywiciel said. “I came in looking for fastballs and got them. Our bats finally woke up; we proved what we can do.
“I love it, beating Central.”
“Our problem has been timely hitting,” Knoebel said. “Today, I don’t think we left that many runners on, we got them in.”
Another reason the Bengals scored as many runs as they did was their aggressive base running. They took advantage of virtually every opportunity on the bases.
“We like to take extra bases and put pressure on the defense,” Knoebel said.
East scored a run in the top of the first as leadoff man David Salazar stopped at third on Carlson’s single, but came home when the hit was misplayed in left field. The Bengals added two in the third on Zywiciel’s double and Carlson’s dash home after an errant throw.
Central got within 3-1 in the bottom of the third on Kyle Cockrell’s RBI single, and Cam Cercone, who had singled and scored in the third, singled home a run with two outs in the fourth to make it 3-2.
O’Reel summoned left-hander Ryan Louck to replace starter Logan Schmitt for a lefty-lefty setup, and Rosner sent up Jake Shewmake to pinch-hit. Louck struck out Shewmake on a 2-2 pitch to end the threat, and the Bengals’ offense regained the momentum for good with the fifth-inning explosion.
The Wildcats didn’t quit, scoring three times in the sixth when David Asencio was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Kyle Cockrell knocked in two runs with his second hit. But Billy Pierce, who relieved Louck during the sixth inning, closed it out.
“We truly think we have five starting pitchers on this team,” O’Reel said. “With five guys, we don’t have problems going to the ‘pen like some might.”