MAHOMET — Nic DiFilippo and his staff knew the challenge that awaited them on Saturday. With Effingham coming to town for a doubleheader, DiFilippo knew that star junior right-hander Zack Lee would toe the mound.
The Kentucky commit throws absolute gas, often spotting his fastball around 94 mph. He had over 15 MLB scouts at his start against Mt. Zion earlier in the week.
So, M-S knew they had to play perfectly if they wanted to claw out a win against Lee and the Flaming Hearts.
For four innings, they did just that. Junior right-hander Kobe Essien had cruised to that point. He had made one mistake that Effingham senior Brayton Poland had sent about 380 feet to left field for a second-inning homer.
The Bulldogs clawed back from the 1-0 hole in the bottom of the third.
Lee had gone through the Bulldogs’ first eight hitters like a buzzsaw and was a strike away from retiring last-place hitter Grant Harvey.
Harvey was plunked on the knee and waltzed down to first base as M-S’ first baserunner. M-S senior Jordan Veldman dribbled one down the third base line and Jackson Lee chucked it down the first base line, allowing Harvey to advance to third.
Lee’s body language had changed. He was pressing on the bump. He decided to take matters into his own hands against Ben Greenberger. A devastating wipeout slider made Greenberger look silly and put the M-S senior in the hole 1-2. But Greenberger continued to battle back and worked the count full. The full-count offering was in the dirt and skittered about two feet away from the Effingham catcher Nick Bishop.
Harvey didn’t even blink. He flew down the line and slid in safely to tie it up. On the next play, Kyle Kinney bounced a single up the middle and Veldman cruised home to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
DiFilippo’s plan was working.
But Essien ran into trouble in the fifth inning. Bishop got his revenge with a long homer to left-center field, and Essien’s pitch count reached 90 after a walk and a 3-2 count on Ballman. CJ McKinney immediately entered and walked Ballman. Cooper Jackson then broke the tie with a three-run bomb.
Effingham scored four more runs in the sixth off McKinney and Zack Chalk and cruised past M-S 10-4 in Game 1 of the doubleheader.
“We talked about it all week about taking a good approach,” DiFilippo said. “This is the best pitcher you’re going to see all year. Let’s be honest, we had them down 2-1. If we get out of the fifth with a zero, it’s a new ballgame. We had to pull Kobe because he threw on Monday. He couldn’t finish the batter. That changed the game.”
Essien picked up the tough-luck loss, but his final line wasn’t a good representation of how well the junior pitched. He finished with 11 strikeouts in 42/3 innings, allowing three hits and four earned runs.
Effingham 16, M-S 6. Dawson Finch homered and drove in three runs, and Quinn Miller notched three hits, but Effingham teed off on Kinney, Greenberger and Bohlen to complete the doubleheader sweep. Effingham hit three more homers off the Bulldogs’ pitching staff and finished with 15 total hits.
Lincoln 6, M-S 2. Kinney’s defense let him down last Tuesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Lincoln. Kinney allowed just two earned runs in three innings but took the loss after he was tagged for five hits and six total runs. Greenberger entered in relief and pitched three sparkling innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four. It was hands-down the best outing of the season for Greenberger to date.
Veldman cranked a triple and a single. He finished with one run driven in and scored one run. Kinney had two hits and one RBI. Bohlen, Miller and McKinney each had singles.
Lincoln 4, M-S 3. Greenberger doubled, drove in two runs and finished with a game-high three hits, but Lincoln completed the sweep. Finch took the tough-luck loss after striking out nine over five rock-solid innings. Finch allowed only three hits and two runs, but Lincoln greeted Bohlen in relief with two hits and they also drew two walks. Nate McFall, McHale, Finch and Dylan Gates all went 1 for 3.
M-S 14, Bloomington Central Catholic 3. The Bulldogs whacked 13 hits and also reached base eight times on free passes to trounce their former Corn Belt Conference rivals. McHale led the way with two hits, two runs scored and three RBI. Kinney and Veldman both had two hits. Kinney, Greenberger and McFall all drove in a couple of runs.
Kinney picked up the win on the bump after he fired five innings of three-hit baseball. He allowed three runs (two earned) and struck out four. Kinney issued just one walk.
M-S improved to 7-4-1 overall on the season. They’re 0-4 in conference play.