BY CHAD DARE
Oakwood coach Bob Sermak knew his Comets were going to need to score at least one run to win against Stanford Olympia.
That didn’t happen on Wednesday in the IHSA Class 2A sectional semifinals at Monticello High School.
Olympia left-hander Sawyer Howard tossed a two-hit shutout as the Spartans downed the Comets 5-0.
“He was tough, he was really tough,’’ Sermak said. “We knew he had a good changeup. He has the best changeup I’ve seen in a while — and maybe ever.’’
Howard, who struck out 14 in the game including the first eight batters in the Oakwood lineup, improved to 7-4 with a sneaky fastball, a good breaking ball and that outstanding changeup.
“Our kids didn’t pick up on it,’’ Sermak said. “The kids were even telling me that the ball was breaking away from our right-hander hitters.
“We have to hit backside on that, and we just didn’t do that. We just tried to pull it, and the result was what it was.’’
The Comets didn’t get a ball out of the infield against Howard until the sixth inning.
Ryan Bott’s infield hit in the fourth and Conor Jarlin’s single in the sixth were the only hits that Oakwood got against the senior left-hander.
A combination of eight straight strikeouts to start the game and a first-inning run for the Spartans (17-15) severely limited the offensive options for the Comets.
“Once we got down to them — which was early — we’re not going to do a lot of bunting, because we needed to put the ball in play,’’ Sermak sid. “We felt like from what we saw, if we put the ball in play that we would have an opportunity to win.’’
“What did we have, 14 strikeouts? That’s unacceptable in a sectional.’’
Howard also helped his own cause in the fourth inning.
Mike Hainline, who drove in the game’s first run, reached on a bloop single to single. Howard followed with run-scoring, wind-aided triple to center field.
Oakwood senior right-hander Jake England (6-2) went the distance, giving up five runs — four earned — on 10 hits while striking out three and walking two.
“We needed to make a couple of special plays, and had we made those special plays, we would have kept his pitch count down more. And Jake would have stayed sharper, deeper into the game,’’ Sermak said. “Those are special plays that we have been making on our run, but we had a couple of plays that we didn’t make that ran his pitch count up.’’
The Comets committed just one error and they got out a second-inning jam with a double play.
“We played alright, but to win this game, we needed to make a couple of special plays,’’ Sermak said. “And we knew one thing, we needed to score.’’
While Olympia advances to Saturday’s championship game to face either St. Joseph-Ogden or Argenta-Oreana; the loss ended the season for Oakwood, which finished the year at 18-7.
“At the start of the year, I thought we could be a .500 team, and if things went well, we could do well in the postseason,’’ Sermak said. “This is the first club that I’ve had — out of the five regional championship teams — this is the first one that also won the conference.
“When you win a couple of championships, you have to call this a success.’’
England, who is committed to playing college baseball at Danville Area Community College next year, is one of six seniors on the Comet roster.
The others are Bott, Jarling, Emillio Johnson, Cody McClintock and Davin Miles.