By Mike Monahan
SULLIVAN – Mattoon’s baseball team had struggled the last five games being outscored 37-3 during that time.
In a non-conference game Thursday at Leon Lane Memorial Field in Sullivan the Green Wave not only ended the losing streak with an 8-2 victory, but the eight runs tied for the second most scored in a game this season.
“This was probably the best all-round (game) we have played,” said Mattoon coach Jarod Kiger. “Not only what happened on the mound , but definitely behind the pitcher. We made some good plays and some good sound decisions in situations where you might press the throw to second and instead you just take the out because you know the situation. That is stuff we have not done and today we did it. We got some success out of it.”
Mattoon took advantage of five hit batsmen, two of which scored. Cayden Knierim was hit by a pitch three times.
Mattoon took the lead, one it never relinquished with three runs in the third on just one hit. The leadoff batter, Jack Helms, reached on one of four Redskin errors and stole second. Kaiden Rice singled to left and stole second putting runners at second and third. The bases became loaded after Knierim was hit by a pitch on a full count. Zach Wetzel reached on an error as Helms scored. Kaden Jung and Logan MacDonald were hit by a pitch as Rice and Knierim scored.
“We have been struggling the last few (games) scoring runs,” said Kiger. “When we do get guys on, we have trouble pushing them across. We got out early and got a couple of runs.”
Sullivan got one run back in their half of the third on a bases-loaded walk to Dawson Foster. Mattoon got out of the bases loaded one out jam as Christian Larson, the winning pitcher, struck out the next batter and got a pop-up to second to end the threat.
Wetzel came up big in the fourth. Mattoon scored two runs on his double to left-center, scoring Rice and Knierim, who had reached on a fielder’s choice and was hit by a pitch respectively.
“I thought it was a home run so I jogged,” said Wetzel. “I was just looking to hit the ball. The win gets us momentum going into Saturday and we kind of needed that.”
Tristan Ruppert came up with a two-out single for Sullivan in the fourth, scoring Cameron Crowe who was hit by a pitch. The Redskins managed just one hit in the last three innings against Mattoon’s Chandler Melton.
“Christian (Larson) started for us and did a great job,” said Kiger. “One of the things we have been harping on as coaches is not giving them free opportunities in walks and hit batters and he had two walks and a hit batter, which is way down from what we have had. Chancellor (Melton) came in and pitched really, really well ; two guys that needed an opportunity to pitch and they did a great job. “
Mattoon added three runs in the seventh on RBIs by Melton, Jarrett Muchow and Luke Perry.
“It was nice to get some separation,” said Wetzel. “We really had not had that a lot. We got the team going and had some confidence going into the last inning.”
Rice and Wetzel had two hits for Mattoon and MacDonald made a nice diving catch in the seventh for the second out. The Green Wave also drew three walks.
“We always talk about any way you can get on base, but we have to be able to move you around,” said Kiger. “This is the first time we have actually put the ball in play and moved guys in situations. We still left 10 guys on base, but we actually got some of those runs across and that put us in a great spot. You could see the confidence come up a little bit. It is hard with that little run where we were going the wrong direction the last few games. We will take the win and momentum going into Saturday at Mount Zion in a doubleheader. We will have our top two guys pitching against them and if we can pitch with a performance like we had tonight we could compete and play our game.”
It was a reunion of sorts as Sullivan is coached by former Mattoon Post 88 and Mattoon Hitmen coach Jason Badman.
“They are good young men,” said Badman. “I was kind of coming out when there were a few of these guys coming in. They have grown up since the last time I saw them.”
Sullivan (2-9) plays Warrensburg-Latham in a Central Illinois Conference game Friday, while Mattoon(3-8) travels to Mount Zion Saturday for an Apollo Conference doubleheader at 11 a.m.
“We allowed extra outs,” said Badman. “I would say we are a young team. At times we start three freshmen and four sophomores. I continue to feel these young men are competing at a high level. Mattoon is 3-8, but they are in the Apollo and there are legit teams in that conference. Mattoon is a fine team. They have not got in a groove because just like everyone else they have had rainouts. We got thumped by Shelbyville two days ago (15-0) and they continue to fight. They could have easily said we are done fighting and they have not. I am proud of them. Our future is bright for the young men. They have to stick with it and understand the process.”
Winning pitcher: Christian Larson 4 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts; Save: Chandler Melton 3 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts
MATTOON: Jack Helms stolen base, run; Kaiden Rice 2-for-4, stolen base, double, 2 runs scored; Luke Perry 1-for-1, double, RBI; Cayden Knierim 2 runs scored; Zach Wetzel 2-for-4, double, 2 RBIs; Kaden Junge RBI; Cooper Bergstrom stolen base, run scored; Logan MacDonald 1-for-2, RBI; Colton Comstock run scored; Melton 1-for-1, run scored, RBI; Jarrett Muchow 1-for-1, RBI