ZEIGLER — It’s three goals down and one to go for Zeigler-Royalton after defeating Waltonville 5-3 in Monday’s Class 2A Regional championship showdown.
“We had four goals coming into the year,” said Zeigler-Royalton coach Page Kirkpatrick. “That was to break the school record for wins, win the conference and win a regional.”
Now that 1-3 are checked off, Kirkpatrick said there’s one goal that remains.
“We are trying to get to the Sweet 16, which you’ve got to win another game to do that,” he said. “We’re trying to get to places that we haven’t been before. Obviously, we’re just tickled to be playing and to be successful is the cherry on top.”
The Tornadoes now own a 24-5 record and are set to face Harrisburg in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal. The Bulldogs also crowned themselves regional champions on Monday with a 15-0 win over Vienna in four innings.
Ziegler Royalton’s Trey Cole finished 2-for-3 with a home run, double and three RBI’s in Monday’s win over Waltonville. The sophomore spoke about facing the Bulldogs, who rank fifth in the state according to the MaxPreps Class 2A High School Baseball Rankings.
“We haven’t seen them yet this year,” Cole said of Harrisburg, “We’ve just got to play great defense, hit the ball and keep up with what we’ve been doing all year.”
That motto stuck true for Cole when he launched a two-run home run in the third inning that gave Zeigler-Royalton a 5-2 lead over Waltonville. Hitting out of the No. 4 spot, Cole scored Cole Freeman on an RBI double in the first inning to put the Tornadoes ahead of the Spartans 1-0.
Cole would end up coming around to score in the first after Mason Goins struck an RBI single to put the Zeigler-Royalton lead at 2-0. Waltonville starter Mike Emery took the loss after allowing two earned runs on three hits through three innings.
“We played them early on in the year,” Cole said of Zeigler-Royalton's 11-1 victory over Waltonville on May 13, “so we knew (Emery) was mainly a fastball pitcher and could spin it a little bit. I just sat back on a fastball.”
Freshman Scout Hudgens earned the victory for Zeigler-Royalton in a complete game effort. Hudgens allowed two runs in the third inning that tied the game at 2-2, but his offense answered in the bottom half after Cole homered and Freeman hit a sacrifice fly that scored Anthony Rolla for the three-run cushion.
Hudgens now owns a 6-1 record this season. His 108 pitches on Monday only struck out two Spartans, but he had the defense behind him to make plays when it counted.
“I felt really good,” said Hudgens. “Coming through the third inning, I really picked up on everything and my defense was there to pick me up every time.”
Zeigler-Royalton’s defense had a game. When it was Hudgens, he worked his way out of a bases loaded situation in the first inning by getting Quinn Gajewski to ground into a 6-3 fielder's choice. He also managed 1-2-3 innings in the second and fifth frames on 19 pitches.
But when Waltonville scored twice in the third after Gavin Woodland crossed home on a wild pitch and Blake Menser scored Nate Ragland on an RBI double, the Tornadoes’ defense stood up. This came after Gajewski drove a two out double for Menser to round third, but a perfectly executed cut-off throw from center-fielder Colin Sveda to Cole at second caught Menser at the plate on a Nick McKinney tag.
That play kept the score at 2-2 and Zeigler-Royalton took the lead in the third to give Hudgens momentum on the mound.
Waltonville tacked on a run in the seventh when Gajewski struck a solo home run off Hudgens with two outs, but the pitcher closed the game by getting Woodland to strikeout looking on a full-count fastball.
“It kind of brought me down a bit but I stayed high and trusted my team,” Hudgens said of the Gajewski homer.
Waltonville coach Joe Emery and his team expected to face good pitching and hitting.
“The first time we played them they short-gamed us, so this game we came in with the attitude that we didn’t have anything to lose,” he said. “Just like the first game against Trico, we just wanted to come in here and compete, but that home run they hit was big for them to go up.”