In the end, Union’s big start trumped Borgia’s comeback Saturday in the Class 4 District 3 baseball semifinals at Wildcat Ballpark.
Union (15-10), the second seed, held off third-seeded Borgia (14-11), 5-4.
The Wildcats advanced to Tuesday’s championship game against top seed Lutheran South.
“We’re having fun right now,” Union Head Coach Ryan Bailey said. “There’s nothing better than being at the baseball field and that’s what we’ve got going for us against Lutheran South. They’re good there is no doubt about it, but so are we. They might have an edge in pitching velocity and power at the plate, but I’ve got 16 guys who work as hard as anyone and we compete and have confidence in spades. On Tuesday we’ll give everything we have and we have a shot to shock some people.”
Borgia Head Coach Rob Struckhoff tipped his hat to the Wildcats.
“We are extremely disappointed in the loss, but we also respect Union’s team,” Struckhoff said. “They took advantage of their opportunities better than we did and that was the difference. We left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings. We also left runners on first and second in the seventh, so we had our chances.”
After Borgia left the bags jammed in the top of the first, the Wildcats went to work on Borgia’s Zach Stahlman and pushed two runs across the plate.
“We know that Zach is a good pitcher,” Bailey said. “He tore us up last year during a Legion game. We talked leading up to Saturday that if we took good at-bats and didn’t get out in front of his pitches, let them get deep, and hit them up the middle we thought we’d have success. To see our team execute as we’d planned was such a good feeling as a coach. This team has a lot of good guys that compete and play hard each day and I was extremely proud of the way we came out to start the game.”
Union made it 5-0 in the bottom of the third, but that was it for the Wildcats.
In the third Borgia switched pitchers to Nick Helfrich and he shut down Union.
Borgia, meanwhile, finally got to Union starter Drew Reed in the top of the fifth, scoring twice. The Knights added two more runs in the sixth, but couldn’t tie it up.
Reed was the winning pitcher, going five innings. He came out after throwing 100 pitches. He allowed two runs on four hits, four walks and one hit batter while fanning 10.
Reed also had a milestone at the plate. With a single to lead off the bottom of the third, Reed logged his 100th high school hit, breaking the Union record held by TJ Johnson (2009-12).
“Drew Reed has been one of the best hitters our area has seen and he’s one of the best players I’ve had the pleasure of coaching,” Bailey said. “I was so extremely happy for Drew to break the record and proud of the man and player he’s become. As a coach you love every guy that comes through your program and sticks it out through their senior year, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Drew was special to me. I’m going to miss him as a player and as a kid who could always put a smile on my face and make me enjoy being at the field. Congratulations to him on everything he’s done and everything he will continue to do at MCC-Maple Woods.”
Bailey said Reed had an interesting final inning.
“Every game we’ve played with those guys has been close for what seems like forever,” Bailey said. “There was no doubt in my mind this one would end up the same way. The strikeout Drew had on (Drew) Piontek where the ball hit the plate and shot over Avery’s head was a turning point in the game. That kept the inning going and gave them some life with the heart of the order coming up. Getting out of that inning with only giving up two runs and stranding the bases loaded was big.”
Bobby Curnutte pitched an inning, allowing two runs on one hit and two walks.
Ethan Hughes came in for the save, pitching one inning while striking out two.
“We were sweating at the end no doubt about it,” Bailey said. “Piontek’s home run in the sixth was a shot. Jake Kleekamp made a nice play on a groundball by (Joe) Schmidt to end the sixth and then after a walk to lead off the seventh, we brought in Ethan Hughes and he was as calm as could be, striking out two before getting an easy flyball to left field. It was a great win and such a relief to see that last ball go into Eli Klenke’s glove. Every play in the game is important and you get as many runs early as you can so that at the end you can play through the other team’s run. That was definitely true today.”
Stahlman took the loss, going 2.1 innings while allowing five runs on nine hits and one hit batter. He fanned one.
Helfrich allowed a hit and a walk over 3.2 innings, striking out one.
“Zach Stahlman got the start, but just didn’t have his good stuff,” Struckhoff said. “He’s had some great performances for us the last few years so it hurt to see it end that way for him. We turned to Nick Helfrich in the third and he was outstanding the rest of the way shutting out Union and only giving up one hit. He gave us a chance to come back.”
Offensively, Trevor Kelly, Logan Groff and Eli Klenke each had two hits for the Wildcats. Curnutte doubled. Avery Morrow, Reed and Logan West singled.
Kelly, Peyton Burke, Blake Griffin, Curnutte and Groff scored. Klenke drove in two while Reed, Groff and West each had one RBI.
Hughes added a walk and was hit by a pitch.
Klenke and Reed had sacrifice flies.
Borgia had five hits, including a home run by Drew Piontek and a double by Spencer Hunter.
Piontek also singled and Adam Molitor had two singles.
Drew Piontek scored twice while his brother Matt scored once. Chris Broeder also scored a run.
Drew Piontek drove in two. Hunter and Louie Eckelkamp drove in one run apiece.
Joe Schmidt walked twice. Hunter, Quinton Poepsel, Eckelkamp and Molitor each walked once.
Gus Kleekamp and Eckelkamp were hit by pitches. Drew Piontek stole a base.
“The big hits came from Spencer Hunter and Drew Piontek,” Struckhoff said. “Hunter’s two-out double in the fifth opened our scoring and Drew hit a bomb over the right field fence to get us within one run in the sixth. Adam Molitor also pounded out two hits. It will be nice having all three back next year. However, our biggest problem was striking out. You just can’t strike out 12 times as a team and win many games. We were lucky it was this close. Give credit to Drew Reed for Union. He was impressive.”
Borgia graduates two players from its Archdiocesan Athletic Association championship team. Kleekamp and Stahlman were the only seniors on this year’s squad.
“Winning the AAA Large championship is a great accomplishment for our team,” Struckhoff said. “Every team was solid this year so we earned it. It’s only going to get tougher with Helias and Father Tolton entering soon.”
Struckhoff said the two seniors contributed much to the program over the past four seasons.
“It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to our seniors, Gus Kleekamp and Zach Stahlman,” Struckhoff said. “They are great young men and have given a lot to our program. I wish them the best.”