Kresin's hit delivers late walk-off win

Kresin's hit delivers late walk-off win

BLOOMINGTON — The pitcher's duel lived up to the hype.

And then some.

But by the time the Tuscola baseball team ran out of its first-base dugout to mob Lucas Kresin and Michael Ludwig on Saturday afternoon underneath the warm sun at Jack Horenberger Field on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University, the moment was more than just what Logan Tabeling did on the mound for the Warriors and what Crayton Burnett did on the mound for St. Joseph-Ogden.

That's saying something, too.

Kresin connected for a two-out single into left field, scoring Ludwig for the only run in the bottom of the seventh and propelling Tuscola to a classic 1-0 walk-off victory against SJ-O in a Class 2A sectional championship game.

"I was just wanting to get the ball into play. I didn't know how," Kresin said. "It felt really good coming off the bat. I just wanted it to get by the infield, and it did. Then, I was just wishing for the guy on third to score."

Ludwig fulfilled Kresin's wish. The speedy senior came in to courtesy run for Ryan Bartley after Tuscola's junior right fielder broke up Burnett's no-hitter with an opposite-field single down the first-base line to lead off the seventh. After Burnett struck out junior designated hitter Max Wyninger, Tabeling dropped down a well-placed sacrifice bunt to move Ludwig up to second base.

Then, it was all Kresin.

Tuscola's junior catcher, who had struck out looking on three pitches from Burnett in his previous at-bat, took an 0-1 fastball and pulled it into left field. Leading off second base, Ludwig sped toward third. Tuscola coach Adam Carver didn't hesitate in waving Ludwig home.

Before Kresin's at-bat, SJ-O coach Josh Haley visited Burnett and his infield for a mound visit to set up the Spartans' defense. It also gave time for Carver to talk to his team. His advice to Ludwig if Kresin produced a hit that happened to reach the outfield grass?

"Be smart," Ludwig said, "and if it gets through, to go as fast as I could to home."

But SJ-O left fielder Adam Rose fielded Kresin's hit cleanly and came up throwing.

His strong throw didn't bounce, with SJ-O catcher Adam Frerichs hauling it in on the fly.

But the throw was just a few feet to Frerichs' right up the first-base line with Ludwig running as fast as he could.

By the time Frerichs caught Rose's throw and stuck out his glove with his left hand, Ludwig had started his slide into home plate, veering to his right a bit and just beating the subsequent tag from Frerichs to set off a euphoric celebration from the Warriors. Even if Rose's throw was on target, there was a good chance Ludwig would have scored.

"My heart was racing so much, and I just thought I had to get there as quick as I could," Ludwig said. "I tried to go off to the right there to get around the tag. I didn't hear anything. I was just so in the moment and blocked everything out."

Good move, according to Carver.

"That's just smart baseball in recognizing where the catcher is going," Carver said, "and getting a good slide in there."

The opportunistic offense by Tuscola (30-2) spoiled a second straight superb postseason start by Burnett for SJ-O (27-9-2). After walking Tuscola senior left fielder Cameron Ochs to open the bottom of the third, the sophomore right-hander retired 11 in a row at one point. Burnett ended up with six strikeouts and two walks, keeping Tuscola off-balance for six innings.

"He pitched good enough to win," Haley said. "He's got nothing to hang his head about, and I'm glad we've got him for two more years, but somebody wasn't going to be happy walking off the field. Logan threw a good game for them. He got nasty when he needed to."

The junior right-hander for Tuscola only allowed four hits and struck out 14, with the Wright State commit repeatedly keeping SJ-O off the scoreboard despite the Spartans having multiple chances. SJ-O ended up stranding nine runners and left the bases loaded in the top of the second before having multiple runners on base in scoring position in both the fourth and fifth innings.

"He was missing here and there throughout the game, but he found ways to get himself out of jams," Carver said. "He's a fighter. He's a kid that's going to battle and give you everything he's got. He's our ace for a reason."

Saturday's hero and key reason why Tuscola won its second straight sectional championship will now try to guide the Warriors back to the state tournament. Kresin is slated to get the start on the mound at 6 p.m. on Monday when Tuscola faces Pleasant Plains (24-11) for the second consecutive season in a super-sectional game at Lincoln Land Community College's Claude Kracik Field in Springfield.

"You've just got to stick with the team and enjoy this win before focusing on the next game," Kresin said. "That next one will be a big one."

With serious implications. A berth at Dozer Park next weekend in downtown Peoria is on the line and so is a state trophy. Tuscola knows the recent feeling of postseason success, and after Saturday's heart-racing win, the Warriors want to keep the feeling intact.

"That was an incredible win," Tabeling said. "We want the seniors to go as far as they can. With where we're at right now, we've got a really good chance of accomplishing what we want."