Spartan's Rose steals the show

Spartan's Rose steals the show

TOLONO — Adam Rose faced a basic reality Wednesday afternoon.

The St. Joseph-Ogden baseball pitcher saw Villa Grove/Heritage's first seven hitters produce four stolen bases across the opening two innings. It led to one run and chances for more.

So the Spartans senior simply didn't allow the Hawks to reach base anymore.

Rose struck out 11 in a complete-game effort and permitted just two baserunners after that early stretch, guiding No. 2 SJ-O past No. 7 VG/H 3-2 in a Class 2A Unity Regional semifinal.

"Really the story of the game is Adam Rose on the hill," Spartans coach Josh Haley said. "Once he got his curveball rolling ... we thought that once he had that established it'd change their swings, and it did."

Rose induced plenty of ugly hacks to go with five looking punchouts after the Hawks (17-11) opened the first frame with their typical offense, predicated on strong footwork.

Nick Coffin singled, swiped second and raced home on a delayed steal after Kane Davison took off from first and drew a throw from SJ-O catcher Adam Frerichs.

"(I was) just trying to get more control over rather than overpowering the hitters," Rose said. "Putting it where I want to have it."

Rose also helped the Spartans (25-8-2) respond to VG/H's quick attack.

Two days after racking up seven steals in SJ-O's regular-season finale with Tri-Valley, Rose earned a leadoff walk from Hawks hurler Evan Wilson in the bottom of the first.

The Spartans then played hit-and-run, with Frerichs knocking a single to left-center as Rose picked up two bags. But outfielder Austin Grimm couldn't handle the ball, and Haley committed to a somewhat aggressive send of Rose from third base.

"I was trying to get some momentum back," Haley said. "It was nice to get one right back, kind of a free run when we gave them a free run on the stolen base."

Coupled with a sacrifice fly from Kaden Jacobs three batters later, SJ-O built a slim advantage that would hold until the fifth.

That's because Rose and Wilson each locked in, with Wilson scattering six hits and fanning seven in his own complete game.

"When he's in control, a lot of good things happen for us," Hawks leader Jason Conn said. "He's been in big games, but you're still going up against a team that you played at the beginning of the year (a 10-0 Spartans victory). ... Once he'd settled down, he kind of went in cruise control."

The lone blip for Wilson was Drew Coursey's fifth-inning blast over the fence in left, the middle portion of a 3-for-3 outing at the dish.

And VG/H made things interesting with just three outs left in its pocket. Carson Howard struck out to begin the seventh, but buzzed all the way to second when the ball skipped away from Frerichs.

Howard eventually scored on a Mason Wyant groundout. Two sliding stops by SJ-O first baseman Keegan McCarty — including a game-capper off the bat of Grimm — ultimately stopped the Hawks' rally.

"The first baseman made a heck of a play on that ball," Conn said. "I saw that ball going through and (Grimm) standing on second base. It was the beginning of a big inning."

Instead, it was the conclusion of the Spartans' first playoff chapter. The second comes 11 a.m. Saturday, when SJ-O returns to Tolono for a regional championship bout with either No. 3 Monticello (15-10-1) or No. 5 host Unity (10-12).

Both share Illini Prairie Conference ties with the Spartans. That doesn't matter to Rose and his pals. though.

"There's no preference," Rose said. "If you think about every single game as a postseason game, it won't feel any different."