COAL CITY – It’s not often that you see a playoff-quality baseball game in the third game of the season. Then again, it’s not often two teams of the quality of Minooka and defending IESA Class 3A champion Coal City lock horns, either.
The two Illinois Valley Conference rivals met Monday afternoon on Coal City’s field, and staged an instant classic. In the end, Coal City’s Mickey McDowell walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, forcing in Austin Pullara with the game’s only run as the Warriors (3-0) came away with the 1-0 victory.
“A walk-off walk isn’t the greatest way to win a game, but we’ll take it,” Coal City coach Jerry McDowell said. “This was a very good junior high baseball game. There’s usually a little more scoring than this, and a tight game will be 6-5 or 5-4. But this one, the pitching was very good on both sides and both sides played good defense.
“I am sure we will meet up with Minooka again a couple more times before the season’s over, and those games will probably be just as good.”
McDowell’s pitcher, seventh-grader Payton Hutchings, was very, very good Monday. Hutchings went the full seven innings, scattering seven hits and striking out nine against no walks. He worked his way out of a few jams, and his defense helped him out, too.
In the top of the first, Minooka’s Zack Stoner and Gage Conner led off with singles through the middle, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Hutchings then struck out the next two batters before inducing a fly out to right to end the inning. In the top of the fifth, Minooka’s Tim Barys led off with a single, but was picked off first by Coal City catcher Dustyn Muzzarelli. Singles by Stoner and Conner followed, putting runners on first and second. Right fielder Jack Bunton made a diving catch on a ball hit by Jake Howicz, and Joe Bulger followed with a single to center that loaded the bases with two outs. A 2-2 pitch to Noah Sistaita sailed to the backstop, but Muzzarelli got to it quickly and fired to Hutchings at home to tag out Stoner.
“We got some nice defensive plays,” McDowell said. “Jack Bunton made a nice play in right and Muzzarelli and Hutchings did a good job getting their guy at home. Earlier in the game, our shortstop, Alex Friddle, made a nice play up the middle to save a run, too.”
Coal City, meanwhile, had trouble with Minooka pitchers Sistaita and Jack Bell. The two combined to allow only three hits, but the Warriors coaxed three walks in the final inning.
“Our pitchers did a nice job, and their pitcher did a nice job,” Minooka coach Kyle Hasler said. “Both sides played good defense. It was just a very good junior high baseball game. That’s what you expect when Coal City and Minooka play.”
Stoner and Conner each had two hits to lead Minooka (2-1), while Barys, A.J. Lewis and Reese Harris each had a hit.
“We had some chances, and I know we out-hit them,” Hasler said. “We just didn’t string enough hits together to push a run across.
“Still, I would rather play in a game like this, win or lose, than win a 10-run rule game. You learn a lot more about your team in a game like this. And, we will find out more about our team in our next game when we see if we can shake this one off.”