GRUNDY CENTER - It hasn't been a common theme all season long. But in the first two rounds of the Class 1A postseason, Janesville has used big innings at the plate to gain control and the rallies have pushed the Wildcats into the District 5 championship game.
Janesville trailed 6-1 through 3 1/2 innings against Grundy Center on Thursday, but a six-run fourth inning pushed the Wildcats into the lead and senior pitcher Tim Swanson made sure the lead stuck during a 7-6 victory at the George Wilhelm Sports Complex.
"The kids fight hard," Janesville coach Nick Weinmeister said. "It's resilency. If we get down, it's about attitude. We knew we would put up runs eventually. If you keep going, the runs usually come and luckily for us they did come the last two games."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center senior Tyler Harken consoles junior Jordan Clapp (21) after Clapp struck out to end the game Thursday in Grundy Center. The Spartans led 6-1 until Janesville plated six runs in the fourth inning to take the lead for a 7-6 victory in the 1A district semifinals.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center junior Jordan Clapp fires to second base during Janesville’s six-run fourth inning Thursday. Janesville’s Chris Grimelli (4) scored on the play, and the Wildcats went on to win 7-6 to advance to the district final on Saturday.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center senior Elliott Eggleston, right, taps gloves with Ryon Appel (17) after making an impressive catch at shortstop to end the bottom of the second inning. The Spartans ended their season at 7-18 following the 7-6 loss to Janesville.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
The Wildcats trailed BCLUW, 10-5, in the district opener on Tuesday before a 10-run inning propelled Janesville to the victory. Swanson earned the win in relief against the Comets, and the Wildcat senior responded again Thursday. He retired all nine Grundy Center batters that he faced while striking out four.
"I like starting games better, but I will do whatever the team wants me to do," said Swanson, who earned his second save. "It is really fun to come in and close down the games, especially a close game like that."
Second-seeded Janesville (17-7), winners of nine of its last 11 games, will next face No. 4 and top-seeded Don Bosco in the district final at 7 p.m. Saturday in Jesup. The Dons beat Jesup, 7-6, in their district semifinal matchup.
The Spartans grabbed the lead in the first three innings thanks to solid defense and timely hitting.
The defense though committed all three of their errors in Janesville's big inning and the Wildcats came through with some timely hits of their own.
"Those situations are hard," Grundy Center coach Jacob Grafenberg said of the three-error inning. "They were trying to make a play and trying to get out of an inning. They wanted to do what they could but sometimes we don't make the right decisions. I don't fault them for anything though."
The Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Hunter Meyer singled with one out and then went to third on a double by Swanson. Jack Thode's RBI single plated Meyer, but a double play by the Spartan defense got freshman starter Austin Burroughs out of the jam with minimal damage done. Another double play in the second inning preserved a Spartan lead as Janesville scored just one run on five hits in the first two frames.
"From the start, it looked good and I felt good," Weinmaster said. "But they took the momentum from us on those double plays. We certainly had to battle to get this one."
Grundy Center grabbed a 2-1 lead in its half of the second inning. Jordan Clapp laced a double to start the inning and then took third on Tyler Harken's sacrifice bunt. Ellliott Eggleston walked with one out and then took second on a catcher's indifference.
Clapp then scored and Eggleston went to third on a Janesville error and an RBI single by Jared Clapp brought home Eggleston.
Two more runs crossed for Grundy Center in the third and fourth innings to push the lead to 6-1.
In the third, the Spartans did not record a hit but walked three times and took advantage of another Janesville error. Burroughs walked, stole second, went to third on a Ryon Appel groundout and then headed home on a passed ball. Jordan Clapp also walked and eventually scored on the Wildcat error.
The Spartans recorded three hits in the fourth. Grant Weldon and Bryce Moats started a one-out rally with singles. Aggressive base running put runners in scoring postion, which eventually helped Weldon score on Burroughs' RBI groundout. A run-scoring infield single by Appel also plated Moats to give the Spartans a commanding lead.
"They don't look at the seedings," Grafenberg said. "They knew we could win this game. They had the confidence. Our seniors stepped up today and tried to get things going for us."
That lead quickly vanished in the bottom of the fourth though. The first four batters reached base for the Wildcats. Chris Grimelli's RBI single and Jerod Fisher's two-run hit helped the Wildcats' get to within 6-4.
The three Grundy Center errors then allowed Janesville to move ahead, and the Wildcats were never threatened again.
"We have a good team this year and a confident bunch of guys," said Swanson. "We've been harped at all season not to get down on ourselves. We just didn't get down despite being behind. We were able to get back up and put runs up when we needed to."
There were no base runners after the fourth inning. Swanson retired the Spartans in order and only one ball left the infield.
"(Swanson) had a nice slider or two-seam fastball, and there was a lot of movement on that ball," Grafenberg said. "It was really something that our guys have never seen before. They didn't know how to handle it and didn't know how to hit it. It is hard to hit something you have never seen. We just weren't prepared for it."
Turner Frey, a Janesville eighth-grader, got the win for the Wildcats, while Burroughs, a Spartan freshman, took the loss.
Frey only allowed three earned runs, gave up five hits and struck out two while walking four.
Burroughs went the distance for Grundy Center and gave his team a chance. He allowed four earned runs on nine hits, fanned two and walked one.
"He did a great job out there," Grafenberg said of his young Spartan starter. "He stayed confident. He stayed cool. He knew he couldn't give up because he didn't want to let his teammates down."
Janesville's big inning wasn't entirely Burroughs' fault, which is why Grafenberg stayed with him throughout the frame and the final two innings as well.
"I knew he could pull through it," said Grafenberg, who made two visits to the mound in the fourth inning. "I needed to make sure he knew he could do it. I was going one play at a time."
Grundy Center finished its season at 7-17. The Spartans also said goodbye to three seniors - Appel, Eggleston and Harken.
"Once we found out where guys were going to play and where they fit, we started to get things going," Grafenberg said. "We probably could have had more wins, but with only 11 guys, I wouldn't trade this team for any other team. The season didn't pan out the way we planned, but it was a successful season."
Three of Grundy Center's wins came against NICL West rival Gladbrook-Reinbeck and two more were against NICL West foe South Hardin.