BY AARON PATTERSON
At this point in the season, Westville baseball coach Joe Brazas will take wins — and runs — any way the Tigers can get them. And in Monday’s IHSA Class 2A Tolono (Unity) regional quarterfinal against rival Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman, that meant taking advantage of the Buffaloes’ miscues.
Four GRFC errors ultimately meant four unearned runs for Westville, and a 4-3 win to advance to Wednesday’s semifinal against the top-seeded and host Unity Rockets.
It is the first postseason win for Westville since 2010, and the third since defeating the Buffaloes in 2007. It was also the Tigers’ first win over the Buffaloes this season after losing twice, 11-0 and 7-6.
“This is my sixth year coaching,” Brazas said. “I want these guys to think that they are winners because I think that they can win, but it’s my job to motivate them and make them play as hard as they can.
“We really didn’t want to get swept by Georgetown, you know, because of the Coal Bucket and the Georgetown-Westville rivalry,” he added. “They are a very good ball club. They’ve got a lot of underclassmen that hit the ball very hard. (Kyle) Coburn pitched a great game — four unearned runs. He pitched against us last time, and he has gotten sharper since then. He was sharp today. He struck a few out. It looked like it was going to be trouble. We just had to win ugly.”
Coburn (4-2) dropped the final game of his high school career in disheartening fashion with a stat line worthy of earning the win.
The senior lefthander threw all six innings striking out seven, walking none, and allowing no earned runs. It was a couple of booted balls and a throwing error, however, that helped the Tigers cross the plate twice in each the fourth and fifth innings.
Westville’s Tyler Dicken led off the fourth inning with a single to center. After advancing to second on a fielding error, Dicken scored on a passed ball and a throwing error. The Tigers then took a 2-1 lead on a run-scoring single by Christian Jackson, and added two more runs in the fifth on an error and a two-out, two-run hit by Kyle Brazas.
The Buffaloes (13-11) attempted a comeback in the seventh but managed only two runs despite getting three hits off winning pitcher Tanner Cox.
“We made too many mistakes,” Buffaloes coach Chad Steinbaugh said. “Those four unearned runs were on four errors on our part. There were two base-running gaffs and missed signals from the hitters. Just too many mistakes. There is no way a team is going to win with that many mistakes.”
Cox (3-2) gave up eight hits but recorded six strike outs with five coming in the first three innings. After surrendering the game’s first run in the fourth inning on an RBI double by Cory Webster, he gave up only one hit until running into trouble in the final frame.
With the tying run on third and two outs, Cox needed only three pitches to end the game with his sixth strike out.
“I just knew I had to step up,” Cox said. “When the going gets tough, the (tough get going). In the last inning, I had to get tough so we could get the last out and win the ballgame.
“They already had two runs and two runners in scoring position. I knew I couldn’t let them get in my head and (had to) keep pitching strikes and keep letting my defense do the work. They did a great job today.”
The loss was the seventh of the season by one run for the relatively young Buffaloes who look forward to rebounding next season with a roster full of experience. They will have to do so, though, without departing seniors Coburn, Ryan Berry, and Trevor Price.
“We’ve got to find a way to compete and get better in that aspect,” Steinbaugh said of the seven close losses. “Those games could have went our way. We could have been anywhere from undefeated in conference to where we are now with five losses. It’s disappointing. I think we will rebound and come back next year with a lot of young guys.”
Westville (14-10-1) will next take on Unity in Wednesday’s 4:30 p.m. regional semifinal in Tolono. A win would send the Tigers to their first regional championship game since 2002.
“We’re going to have to come in with a high head and be ready to play against a good ball team,” Cox said. “We’re going to have to play Westville baseball and we’ll be fine.”
The second-seeded Oakwood Comets are scheduled to face Monticello on Thursday in the other semifinal.