Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
The many changes in Illinois weather didn’t deter Greenwave pitcher Jackson Helms from tossing a gem.
Helms, supported by an offensive output that included a first inning grand slam by Owen Hawkins and a fourth inning grand slam by Joseph Stewart, scattered four hits and three walks and struck out eight as Mattoon (6-8, 4-2 Apollo) defeated Mt. Zion (10-7, 4-2 Apollo) in the first game of a doubleheader at Grimes Field on Saturday.
“The pitch was changeup,” Hawkins said. “I knew a fastball was coming and he (Mt. Zion’s ) left it inside. I roped it. It was electric; to be able to jump out 4-0 in the first inning was pretty sweet.”
Beside driving in four runs, the two players each scored twice.
In a matter of a half inning, the players felt the sun, a drizzle of rain, strong wind, and a small peltering of hail.
“When the gusts happened, it was pretty rough,” Helms said. “Overall, both sides handled it well by having to play in it. Those two home runs might not be home runs without the wind, so it’s a blessing and curse at the same time.
There were some times I wanted to throw a slider, but there were 30 mph winds,” he said. “The slider just wasn’t going to break.”
Mattoon turned right around and took the second game 2-0 behind a masterful performance by Madden Johnson, who gave up three hits, walked four and stuff out five over six innings.
The Greenwave scored again in the first when Madden Johnson helped himself hitting a triple to center field. Camden Jordan, in as a courtesy runner for Johnson, scored on Slater Trier’s triple one at-bat later.
Cayden Knierem got his revenge by being hit twice by a pitch, once in the first inning and the second during the six-run fourth inning in the first game by hitting a single in the next next at-bat scoring Jordan, giving Mattoon the only runs they would need.
Jordan pitched the seventh inning for the save.
Hawkins said it was important to get ahead early to be able to save pitchers for other moments.
“It was really important because technically we can save pitchers and save pitcher’s arms and bring in closers sooner if we have to if we have a big lead,” he said.
The catcher said winning both games was crucial to getting to the top of the conference standings.
“We knew there would be three to four top teams (in contention for the conference title) with us being one of them,” he said. “Now, it’s really being put into perspective.”
The sweep over Mt. Zion puts the Greenwave in a tie for second place with the Braves, one game behind Mahomet-Seymour, which is 6-2 in the Apollo. The Bulldogs play host to Mattoon on May 6 and Mt. Zion on May 13.
Hawkins said the one key for Mattoon’s continued success is an increase in hitting.
“I think it starts with the bats,” Hawkins said. “It (the season) started with three-hit games, four-hit games. Now, we’re up to 8, 9, and 10 every single game. That shows with the ten runs this game.”
Helms tried to make due, considering the weather by trying to get his teammates back into the dugout as quickly as possible.
“I really liked my slider,” Helms said. “I got behind in some counts, but overall I was pretty efficient. The changeup was working well with the wind today, so I was trying to stay efficient so my guys could get back into the dugout to stay warm.”
“My guys did great with no errors in the field is awesome,” Helms said, who induced a double play in the second inning that stymied a Braves rally.
After issuing a walk to Mt. Zions’ Brendan Doyle, Helms got Mt. Zion’s Robert Chausse to hit into a double play, with Luke Perry tossing the ball to Johnson for the out at second and the throw to Knierem at first.
“There was one bloop hit that could’ve gone either way really … but they were really good job defensively,” he said.