A sense of normalcy has finally settled in this spring.
The weather is warming up. The rain has finally stopped. And the South Central baseball team has won another regional.
The host Cougars took home their seventh regional title plaque in nine years Saturday, rolling to a 7-2 victory over Woodlawn in the title game of their own Class 1A Regional.
The victory South Central’s second of the day and sixth straight overall, as the Cougars (19-12-1) started the postseason in typical fashion following a regular season that was anything but.
‘It’s been a tough season, and the kids have had to endure a lot of things they never had before,’ Cougars coach Curt Jones said. ‘But a lot of the injuries ries and other things that went on happened two or three weeks ago. That gave other guys a chance to settle in and regroup. They haven’t torn it up, but haven’t hurt us either. And they’ve really played good defense for us.’
The Cougars (19-12-1) suffered a series of defections and injuries during the first half of the spring – none more devastating than ace hurler/third baseman Tanner Bushue’s midseason ACL tear.
But after falling to .500 shortly thereafter, South Central’s fortunes have trended upwards thanks to improved defense, a potent offense, and Bushue’s unexpected return in a doubleheader romp of Carmi-White County.
Bushue is still far from 100 percent; he is unlikely to pitch significant innings or be in the lineup any time soon this postseason.
But the worm certainly appears to have turned for the Cougars, even though Jones said his veterans still expected success when things were going wrong.
‘I think a lot of the seniors expected to have a very good chance at (winning a regional),’ Jones said.
It showed Saturday morning, as Sandoval was no match for the Cougars in a semifinal contest.
South Central’s power surge continued – as the Cougars launched six homers – in an 11-0 five-inning victory against the overmatched Blackhawks.
Two of those round-trippers came off the bat of red-hot of senior Heath Sigrist part of a 3-for-3 day at the plate.
Lance Schneider added a homer, double and two RBIs to an 11-hit attack, while Will Crain, Zac Cain and Shea Burton went deep as well.
Not to be forgotten in all the offensive exploits was a combined no-hitter by Aaron Robb and Sigrist.
Robb worked three perfect innings to start off the game, and Sigrist finished things up by throwing two scoreless innings of his own, striking out four and walking one.
Schneider was just getting started in the opener, as he led the Cougars to another regional title from the mound and at the plate in the title game.
Schneider improved to 6-1 by pitching six shutout innings, in addition to giving the Cougars their first lead with a two-run homer in the fourth.
He wound up allowing no runs on three hits and no walks, striking out eight Cardinals.
Offensively, Cain’s two singles and a bases-clearing double by Justin Armstrong led the Cougars.
Unfortunately, the victory was marred by an altercation between Schneider and a Woodlawn player in the final inning of the game.
Woodlawn’s player started the fracas, but Schneider suffered the consequences due to his response.
Due to IHSA rules on fighting, Schneider will be suspended for Wednesday’s South Central Sectional semifinal game against rival Dieterich.
The news is doubly bad for South Central, considering Schneider has been on fire at the plate and Jones planned to start the senior righty on the mound against the Maroons.
Fortunately for the Cougars, Dieterich will likely be unable to counter with ace Darin Worman, who started Monday in the Maroons’ Red Hill Regional championship victory.
Jones will likely pitch Robb in a game slated for 4:30 p.m.
‘It’s tough, because he hasn’t pitched this type of big game,’ Jones said. ‘But he is capable. He’s pitched some really nice games for us this year.’