WOODSTOCK – Richmond-Burton pitcher Ryne Blanton is a three-year varsity player who has made his biggest contributions when needed most.
Dating to last season, the senior has earned five wins for the Rockets in the postseason, including Saturday's 10-5 win over Woodstock in the Class 3A Woodstock Regional final. The Rockets move on to face Wauconda in Thursday's Grayslake Central Sectional semifinal.
"He's a gamer," Rockets coach Mike Giese said. "He's pitched and won some really big games for us, and he came up big for us again."
Blanton pitched all seven innings while allowing nine hits and five runs, although just two were earned. He also struck out eight while walking two.
The senior found a rhythm early in the game and pitched at a quick clip. Once he caught the ball from the catcher after a pitch, he toed the rubber and started his motion to throw again. His fast pace kept him in a zone on the mound and helped him to relax and work through any jams.
"I like to work fast," Blanton said. "I'm the most comfortable then, and I think it gives the hitters less time to stand around and try to guess what pitch I'm going to throw next."
The Blue Streaks (7-17) scored two runs in the top of the first to grab an early lead when Jacob Ellegood singled home Andy Buhrow and Eric Bell after they reached on an error and a double, respectively.
Blanton settled into a groove and and limited Woodstock to just three more runs.
"You have to give Blanton credit," Woodstock coach John Oliveira said. "He's a rhythm guy, and he was able to keep that even with runners on. He pitched well."
The Rockets scored four runs in the first after sending seven batters to the plate and added six more runs between the third and sixth innings, handing Buhrow the loss. R-B Leadoff hitter Jake Tiso and Blanton each scored three runs and reached base three times.
Saturday's win marked the third consecutive regional title for the Rockets, who are finding their stride and starting to put together good, complete games at the right time. The notion of winning a third straight regional title seemed shaky as recently as last week before heading into the postseason, as R-B was having trouble finding ways to win.
Giese pointed to three straight losses in the final three games of the regular season as one of the lower points in the season. The Rockets (17-10) lost those three games by one-run margins, which put their total to five one-run losses this season, so having an outburst of runs and solid pitching against Woodstock made the Rockets breathe a little easier.
"It feels good to get this win," Giese said. "Our bats haven't been going lately, but today we hit much better. We believe that hitting is a mentality, and we've been able to come in and be focused and aggressive (in the postseason)."