For the first time since 2011, the Waterloo High School baseball team is going to the state tournament.
Waterloo scored early and often in an 11-1 win over Effingham at the GCS Ballpark Supersectional on Monday.
The Bulldogs (23-12) are now heading north to play in the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals at Joliet Route 66 Stadium, where they will take on Burbank St. Laurence at 10 a.m. Friday.
Win or lose, Waterloo will end its season Saturday in either the state title game or third place contest. Other teams at state are Dixon and Lombard Montini.
“Our defense has been very good in the postseason,” Waterloo head coach Mark Vogel said. “We were very up and down, especially in the middle of the season. But our conference gets us prepared to play anybody in the state.”
Vogel’s Bulldogs placed third in the state in 2011. Two key members of that squad, Garrett Schlecht and Alex Wittenauer, are assistant coaches this season.
Waterloo pounded out 13 hits against Effingham on Monday. Ty Kueper’s bases loaded double gave the ‘Dogs a 4-1 lead in the second inning. The runs kept coming from there.
Nathan Albrecht went 3-for-3 with a double and three RBIs. Josh Wittenauer went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs.
“We just told our hitters that you have to compete at home plate like you have all postseason and they did that today,” Vogel said.
Dustin Crawford, a sophomore righthander, went 2-for-2 with two runs at the plate and allowed just three hits while striking out five in five innings pitched for the win.
“He’s just a competitive kid that throws a lot of strikes,” Vogel said.
Crawford is 11-2 on the season with a microscopic 1.45 ERA.
Waterloo ace righthander Drake Downing continued his postseason mastery, pitching the Bulldogs to the Class 3A Salem Sectional championship on Saturday.
Waterloo downed Carbondale, 3-1.
On May 25, Downing outdueled Columbia ace and Mizzou commit Shane Wilhelm with a one-hit masterpiece for the regional title.
He was just as effective Saturday in the sectional final. In fact, Waterloo pitching in general has been stingy with opposing offenses in surrendering just five total runs all postseason.
“You can’t say enough about Drake and our entire pitching staff,” Vogel said. “We’re playing the way we have to play. We have to play defense, we have to pitch and then we have to take advantage of opportunities we get offensively. And that’s what we did.”
To Vogel’s point, his Bulldogs scored all three of their runs in the third inning without the benefit of a hit. A leadoff walk was followed by a hit batsman, another walk and then a long sacrifice fly to the rightfield warning track by Kueper to give Waterloo a 1-0 lead. Crawford lifted a short fly ball to left that was dropped, leading to another run. A second sac fly by Marcus Heusohn made it 3-0.
“We understand who we are and we work every day to make sure we play the game we’re capable of,” Vogel said.
The three-run cushion was plenty enough for Downing, who had pinpoint accuracy with his fastball and kept the Carbondale hitters off balance with a biting slider.
“They could not hit the slider,” Downing said after the game.
Downing, a junior righty, induced several ground balls that his infield defense swallowed up for easy outs. The middle infield of Wittenauer at shortstop and Tyson Roedl at second base kept busy and didn’t let their ace down.
“The grass killed it a little bit but, I mean, I’m fine with it,” Downing said.
Downing struck out 10 and walked none, surrendering just four hits all game. He is 7-3 on the season with a 1.82 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 65.3 innings.
Wittenauer had two hits on the day, including a well-placed bunt single.
Kueper, a senior, leads the Bulldogs in hitting this season at .409 with 11 doubles and 26 RBIs.
Wittenauer, also a senior, is hitting .388 with 11 stolen bases and 26 runs.