TRUMAN - Coleman Bushlack started the prep baseball season as part of United South Central's bullpen. It didn't take many relief appearances for the right-hander to earn a spot in the Rebels' starting rotation.
Bushlack recorded nine strikeouts and pitched 6 1/3 innings of six-hit baseball Thursday night.
Teammate Jason Huper got the final two outs in stranding the potential tying and game-winning runs at second and third base, respectively, to seal USC's 5-4 first-round playoff victory over Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman in Truman.
Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman second baseman Darren Balcom (left) forces out United South Central runner Chris Melby (5) at second base during Section 2A, South Sub-Section quarterfinal baseball action Thursday night in Truman. Knights’ shortstop Spencer Schrader (back) watches the action. (Photo by Chip Pearson)
The No. 5-seeded Rebels (10-10) advance to face either No. 1-seeded Mankato Loyola or No. 8-seeded St. Clair at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the highest seed's home ballpark in the Section 2A, South Sub-Section semifinals.
The No. 4-seeded Knights ended the season with an 11-7 record.
"We (coaching staff) put him (Bushlack) in the bullpen to start the season, but our starting pitchers struggled throwing strikes early on," said USC mentor Pat Frank. "He was around the plate consistently when we used him, and his innings worked went from two to three to four, so we decided to move him to the starting rotation."
The roster move paid dividends Thursday night as Bushlack limited the hard-hitting Knights to just four runs on six hits.
"We hit the ball solidly tonight, but just couldn't bunch our hits together when we got runners on base," said ML/GHEC/Truman head coach Scott Chirpich. "We kept it close the entire game, but gave up that one big inning and couldn't quite recover from it in the later innings."
After the Rebels plated a solo run in the top of the first inning behind leadoff batter Shawn Redman's single and Lucas George's RBI double off the left-field fence, the Knights answered with two runs behind three hits during the home half.
Garrett Schock drilled a leadoff single and wheeled to third base when Dylan Petrowiak hammered a double off the left-field fence.
Sam Geistfeld drew a walk to load the bases before Jeremy Smith assisted his own pitching cause by smacking a sharp two-run single to left to plate Schock and Petrowiak for a 2-1 lead.
Bushlack worked out of the jam with a strikeout and an infield popout before settling into a pitching rhythm that surrendered only a solo run in the third via a double-steal by Petrowiak and Smith.
Down 2-1, USC's 6-foot-8 first baseman Kyle Bauman launched a towering solo home run to left to knot the game at 2-all in the top of the second inning, starting an offensive rally the visitors.
David Stenzel then singled, Chris Melby walked and Trey Allis later delivered two more pivotal runs by lashing a single down the third-base line for a 4-2 edge.
Up 4-3, Cole Stencel walked, advanced on Huper's key sacrifice bunt and scored what proved to be the game-winning run on Bauman's RBI single to left during the top of the fifth.
Bushlack later gave up a one-out single to Spencer Schrader during the bottom of the seventh before issuing his fifth walk of the game to Petrowiak to merit a visit from his head coach.
Frank opted to bring Huper to the mound and the right-hander got a groundout and a flyout to preserve Bushlack and the Rebels' one-run victory.
Bauman went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, while Redman went 2-for-4 and scored twice for USC. Petrowiak went 2-for-2 with a double and two walks to complement scoring three runs.
Jeremy Smith allowed five earned runs on six hits, struck out three and walked two in five frames to receive the loss. Petrowiak struck out two, walked one and gave up one hit in two innings of relief.
USC 130 010 0 - 5 7 0
MGT 201 000 0 - 4 6 1
Coleman Bushlack (WP), Jason Huper (7, Sv) and Trey Allis. Jeremy Smith (LP), Dylan Petrowiak (6) and Garrett Schock.
2B-Petrowiak (MGT), Lucas George (USC). HR-Kyle Bauman (USC).