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Plainfield North beats Minooka to open SPC play

PLAINFIELD – As the baseball teams from Plainfield North and Minooka kicked off Southwest Prairie Conference play on Tuesday, it was safe to say that both squads were focused on finding a way to win and weren’t worried about picking up any style points.

The cold and wet conditions made good performances problematic, and both squads’ limited games thus far didn’t help matters.

In the first of three meetings between two of the favorites in the league, the Tigers were able to execute better than the Indians and that helped them capture a 7-2 home victory.

North (5-1, 1-0) moved in front for good with a three-run second and then after Minooka (3-4, 0-1) closed to within 3-2 in the top of the sixth inning, the hosts ended the drama by scoring four times in the bottom half of that frame.

“What a terrible day for both teams to try to pitch and hit,” Tigers coach John Darlington said. “The wind was blowing and it was cold and raining and there were ice pellets. It’s a bad day when you can’t see both teams at their best. The pitchers were just trying to survive and when the other guys came in, it didn’t get any better. But it’s early in the year and only our sixth game and they haven’t played many, either, so we’re both in the same boat.

“We put some balls in play early and that got us rolling and gave us a little breathing room. I think that our pitchers have pitched well so far. Our kid today (Josh Garner) threw the ball well. He threw strikes for the most part until the very end, when he couldn’t feel his hand, which changed how he was pitching. We have not hit the ball as well as I thought we would, but part of that is because we’ve seen really good pitching. We seem to find a different guy every night that’s putting the ball in play. Alex Steinbach and Justin Yeager hit the ball well.”

While the Tigers owned a 9-4 advantage in hits, the Indians had plenty of opportunities, starting in the first when an errant pickoff throw moved a runner to third with one out, but he stayed there. Minooka loaded the bases in each of the final three innings but was unable to collect more than two runs.

“The weather was bad, but we didn’t play well, either,” Minooka coach Jeff Petrovic said. We had a couple of chances defensively to get ourselves out of innings and we didn’t do that and they took advantage of our mistakes and we really didn’t take advantage of the things that they gave us. We’re struggling defensively and a couple of walks came back to haunt us. But they’re a good program and they’re going to capitalize on mistakes.

“We’d been off for five days and it’s hard when you’re fighting the weather. It rained, snowed and hailed, all within the same game. But that’s not an excuse and that’s what you have to deal with at this time of the year. We just didn’t play very well today.”

North got all of the runs that it would need in the second when Josh Heckman led off with a homer to left and then with two outs, Alex Steinbach (2-for-2) got an infield single before Anthony Agne (2-for-3, two RBI) and Justin Yeager (2-for-4) contributed RBI doubles.

Tigers starter Josh Garner allowed two hits and two runs during his 5 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and retired 11 in a row from the first through fourth innings.

“We just had to battle out there,” Garner said. “I was just trying to throw strikes so my teammates didn’t have to stay out there too long. We did a job to jump out in front and that really helped us. I think that we have a good group of guys and they’re really resilient. We get along very well and they really want to win so they put the work in. We have a lot of talent so we just have to keep working hard and just do our jobs.”

In the fifth, Minooka finally scored thanks to a hit batter, a bunt single by Nick Airola and a sacrifice before Zach Earls made it 3-1 with an infield out. An inning later, Earls got a two-out single to score Joe Butler before another runner was thrown out at the plate.

North wrapped things up in the bottom of the sixth when Steinbach brought in one run on a sacrifice fly and Agne singled home another. After the sixth run scored on a wild pitch, Garner got an infield single which resulted in the final tally.

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