MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. - The game plan was for Hononegah's Indians to dispatch Rockford Guilford Wednesday afternoon while saving senior ace Tyler Statler for Friday's final in the 4A Harlem Regional.
Consider the strategy mostly successful.
The Indians (23-7, 17-1 NIC-10) did knock off the Vikings 5-1 and needed only a cameo appearance by their tall right-hander with the 0.90 earned run average. He came on in the top of the seventh inning with two on and no outs and retired the final three batters for a save.
"The situation called for using him," Hononegah head coach Matt Simpson said of the decision to use Statler. "We weren't going to lose the game with him standing over playing first base, I know that. You have to win this one to play Friday and he didn't throw many pitches. It was just a tuneup for Friday."
An enjoyable tuneup at that.
"It was fun going out and shutting them down and getting us the win," Statler said. "I just tried to pound the strike zone."
On Friday, the Indians will face the winner of today's game between host Harlem and Hampshire.
Simpson sent No. 2 starter Payton Mather to face the Vikings. While the junior had walked only 12 batters in his previous 49.2 innings, he had some uncharacteristic bouts of wildness during the first two innings. Guilford, however, stranded four baserunners and the game was still scoreless when Will Hissong (7-0) came on in relief in the third.
The Indians had their own problems offensively with just one hit through the first three innings.
"I think we had trouble focusing on this one game without thinking ahead to Friday," Statler said. "It took us a little while. But we did what we had to do."
Simpson wasn't surprised that it wasn't a breeze.
"I was very worried," the coach said. "Guilford doesn't have a great record, but they're not a terrible team. The longer you let a team like that hang around, the more confidence they get. They made it tough on us and battled right to the end.
"I just thought at the plate we were out of sync from what we've done all year. We swung at pitches we don't normally swing at that were out of the strike zone. I don't know if it was because it was finally warm and the wind was blowing out at 25 mph and we were trying to do too much. Hopefully, we get back to our approach on Friday."
The Hononegah fourth inning started inauspiciously with Noah Goddard drawing a walk on a wild pitch ball four, but getting thrown out trying to advance to second. The Indians went on to load the bases on a pair of walks and a hit batsman. Dylan Sayles then drew the fourth walk of the inning off Andrew Harris to force in the first run.
Alex Thompson singled to right to make it 2-0 and a fielder's choice grounder by Bryce Goodwine hiked the lead to 3-0.
"The wind was really blowing and I think we needed a better approach at the plate early in the game," Thompson said. "We were all taking hacks trying to put it out. But if we just execute like we have all season, it's going to help us go far. We just need to play our game."
Guilford broke up the shutout in the fifth inning, scoring an unearned run off Hissong, but Hononegah got it back in the fifth. Mathers led off with a walk and stole second and third before Ryan Blunt beat out a slow roller to second for an RBI single.
Hononegah made it 5-1 in the sixth on Statler's bases-loaded walk.
When Hissong walked the first two batters of the seventh, Statler came on and ended it with a flyout, strikeout and groundout.
"We were fortunate Tyler was available and he shut them down," Simpson said.
• LINESCORE: Hononegah 5, Rockford Guilford 1.
R. Guilford.....000 010 0 - 1 4 0
Honononegah...000 311 x - 5 4 1
WP - Hissong. LP - Harris. S - Statler.
Leading hitters - H, Thompson 2x2. 2B - Thompson.