CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South’s Paul Wille figured the situation begged for him to use an aggressive approach.
The Gators had the bases loaded with the score tied and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. The left-handed-hitting senior assumed he would get something favorable to hit on the first pitch.
Wille jumped on Crystal Lake Central reliever Fred Birr’s pitch and hit a fly over right fielder Logan Mensching’s head to give South a 2-1 win in the Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional play-in game Monday. Fourth-seeded South (16-14) advances to Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. regional semifinal against top-seeded Barrington.
Ryan Wilkening (5-2) pitched a strong game for the Gators, striking out four, walking none and allowing seven hits.
“It was a straight fastball down the middle,” Wille said. “That’s it. I was confident I could get it in play. All I had to do was get the ball on the ground and our guy [Mike Danca] would have scored.”
Wille actually thought to a similar scene April 1 when he came up against Guilford. He also hit that first pitch for a line-drive single and a 2-1 walk-off win.
Danca and Collin Chubb drew walks to lead off the seventh, and John Constantino got a bunt hit with one out to load the bases for Wille, hitting in the No. 3 spot.
“Their outfielders were playing in, but it would have been a hit anyway, or a sac fly,” Gators coach Brian Bogda said. “Ryan Wilkening was the other story, giving up one unearned run. He was commanding the zone, challenging hitters and our defense was good.”
Central (7-22) scored in the second with help from an error, but Wilkening helped the Gators out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout of Kyle Lavand. The defense came through with double plays in the first, sixth and seventh innings for South.
“They put eight other guys out there with me and I used them all,” Wilkening said. “Danca made big plays at the corner, the middle [infielders] twisting double plays, [first baseman] Derek Bulger had a big scoop. They were all playing great defense. And I love those double plays, they usually end innings.”
Central junior left-hander Jason MacAlpine, a late replacement for Tyler Hofmann, was tough on South, allowing six hits and one earned run. Tigers coach had both pitchers warm up, but decided when Hofmann had soreness in his throwing arm to go with MacAlpine (1-2).
“Jason threw great. He did an awesome job,” Badgley said. “He started doing good things in practice and we started throwing him out there. He’s good. This is a tough, tough loss.”
Since 2010, Central is 0-5 in its first postseason games, losing by a total of six runs.
Badgley lamented the chances the Tigers missed through failures with bunting. MacAlpine seemed unfazed with not knowing he would start until shortly before the game.
“It was just get ready to go,” MacAlpine said. “I tried to mix up speeds and keep them guessing. They were catching up on my fastball, so I used my curveball and splitter to keep them off-balance.”
South took advantage of two MacAlpine walks to lead off the last inning before he was lifted.
Wilkening made an adjustment of his own after Central hit his breaking pitches hard. He abandoned his curveball and went with fastballs and changeups.
“[Wilkening] did a good job,” Wille said. “They couldn’t score runs and execute … I guess we couldn’t either.”