Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Effingham’s Josh McDevitt played a major role in denying Charleston the Apollo Conference championship the past two years.
The Trojans didn’t want him doing that for a regional championship as well.
But that’s what happened Thursday afternoon.
McDevitt, who’s been clocked in the mid to high 90s and is bound for Missouri in the fall, mowed down Charleston batters, striking out 11 over eight innings while giving up just two walks and three hits.
Just was more of the same from the highly touted prospect.
Camden Raddatz, meanwhile, singled in Kaden Nichols in the bottom of the eighth inning to lead the Hearts (18-16) to a 2-1 victory over the Trojans (21-13) in their regional semifinal game at Richland County High School.
“I felt like we battled the entire game,”McDevitt said. “I felt like we were still in it when it wasn’t going our way. I’m really proud of our hitters. We faced a couple of good pitchers there, but we didn’t give up. My defense was really good for me. I felt like I didn’t have to strike everyone out. I could just pound the zone and theyd back me up. It’s a really good win.”
For six innings, it was a matter of who would get to the opposing pitcher first.
“It’s always hard to face a guy like that, once or even twice because of his stuff and how hard he throws,” Charleston catcher Jacob Morrisey said. “It was a privilege because he’ll be in the majors one day.”
Almost a month earlier, the Hearts hosted Charleston in an Apollo Conference doubleheader, and McDevitt blew through the Charleston lineup for 12 strikeouts. And once again, just like tonight, his hitters came through in the clutch scoring two in the bottom of the sixth for a 3-2 win.
“I think they know he’s a good pitcher,” Charleston varsity baseball coach Daniel Bennett said. “They couldn’t wait to get to practice. We had our machine cranked up to 90 (mph) all week long. We had guys ready to go before we were even ready. They were ready for the challenge. We wanted to beat the best. We wanted to get him this time.”
Charleston countered with Aiden Archibald, who told his coach before the game that he had never went past 85 pitches in a game. Archibald, struggling at times from the mound this season, was masterful in keeping Effingham off the scoreboard after a shaky first inning which saw him get two quick outs before the Hearts scored from one of his seven walks.
For all of McDevitt’s pitching mastery and wonder, the Trojans defense was his mirror, keeping the Hearts at bay when it appeared Effingham was bound to score.
In the fifth inning, Charleston first baseman James Hess raced to the fencing and caught a foul ball by Raddatz. Moments later with Effingham’s Quest Hull on first from a walk, the Trojans almost pulled off a double play with third baseman Spour firing to Sipes at second then to Hess at first, a step behind Myles Maxedon, who beat the throw.
Applegate took a ground ball hit by the Heart’s Colton Webb and lightly tossed it to Sipes for the third out.
An inning later and facing his last batter in the sixth, Archibald served up his last pitch to Effingham’s Kaden Koerberlein, who drilled it straight to Luke Bonstetter in centerfield.
Rocketing the ball back to home plate, Jacob Morrisey tagged Evan Waymoth as a stunned crowd watched the third baseman be called out by the home plate umpire.
“Archibald’s performance was huge,” Morrisey said. “He had a rough spot there in the first inning. He jumped back in and dominated the rest of the game.”
The Trojan acquitted himself nicely, surrendering just the one run on five hits with four strikeouts.
“I can’t say enough of what Aiden Archibald stepped up and did for us today,” Bennett said. “ He came out today and threw 110. He was fired up feeling good. We knew that we were going with Luke second and he did a nice job. They just hit him at the right time.”
An inning later, the Hearts threatened. But the Charleston defense answered again, this time with Luke Bonstetter in relief.
Second baseman Josh Sipes leapt for a ball hit sharply by Maxedon for the first out and tossing it to Applegate at second, which doubled up Raddatz.
While Bonstetter put a Heart runner on base after plunking Colton Webb with a pitch, his defense again led by Applegate took another ground ball, this time by Waymoth and relaying it to Sipes for the final out of the inning.
The momentum felt like it was swinging Charleston’s way — even as McDevitt walked off the mound in the eighth inning, pumping his fist after striking out Applegate for the last out.
“They hit fastballs,” McDevitt said of Charleston. “They hunt fastballs. They’re overall just really good. They have good arms on the mound. They just do everything the right way. We know that if we want to beat them, we have to play pretty much perfect.”
But ultimately, it was the last of Charleston’s 10 walks that were its undoing.
Bonstetter’s walk to Nichols with two outs in the eighth became the final tally after he advanced to third on a wild pitch and a single from Koeberlein.
McDevitt and the Hearts will now face Marion for the regional championship Saturday at 11 a.m.
“I just told the guys in the huddle that if you would’ve told me that we would have 21 wins at the beginning of the season, you guys would be crazy,” Bennett said. “We went on a nice stretch there at the end. These kids really started to gel. They were having fun. We were feeling really good coming into this game today. We figured the winner of this game would take the regional there’s two solid teams here. They just got us todays.”