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By Drake Skleba
For the Bugle 

Steelmen two out magic", Rocha blank Pekin 8-0; No.1 seed Minooka next

 

Last updated 6/2/2021 at 9:27pm



Two-out magic — A phenomenon that has swept the Enterprise/Bugle high school baseball coverage area this spring.

From as far north as Park Ridge and as far south as Minooka, area baseball teams have been scoring all or most of their runs after two outs in an inning.

Another example of two out magic occurred in downtown Joliet on Wednesday.

In their opening game of the 2021 IHSA State Baseball Tournament, the Steelmen of Joliet Central (3-24) defeated Pekin 8-0. The game was a Class 4A, Regional C play-in game.

The Steelmen scored seven of their eight runs in the game after two outs in the innings in which they scored.

It always helps to have a little pitching and the Steelmen had junior Alex Rocha in top form. Rocha fired six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits. Rocha struck out seven Dragon hitters and walked two.

Steelmen senior reliever Nate Combs retired the Dragons (1-17) in order to close out the game.

Two out magic.

In the bottom of the second inning, Rocha (2-for-4, 2B,3RBI) ripped a clutch two-out, two-run double to give the Steelmen a 2-0 lead. On a Combs single, a Dragon miscue allowed the third Steelmen run to score and then senior Gabe Dunne (3-for-4, RBI) made it 4-0 Joliet with his clutch two-out RBI single.

In the top of the third, for the third consecutive inning Rocha, with two out, plunked a Dragon hitter. Rocha hit more Dragons (3), than Dragons hit safely (2). Rocha did not allow a hit in his first three innings of work on the mound,

Sophomore Zach Riley (2-for-4, RBI) and Rocha added a dose of two-out magic, with clutch, two-out RBI singles to extend the Steelmen lead to 6-0 after three innings.

In the top of the fourth inning, the Dragons picked up their first two hits of the game and had runners on first and second with nobody out.

Rocha induced a roller to sophomore second baseman Nate Maldonando (2-for-3), who fired a strike to shortstop Dunne for the force at second and Dunne fired a strike to first baseman, senior Nate Valdez, for the 4-6-3 double-play. Rocha picked up his fourth punch-out of the game to end the threat.

With one out in the sixth inning, Steelmen senior Adam Hoehn-Aguilera's (2-for-4) RBI single with one out, made it 7-0 Steelmen. Back to two out magic, when Valdez would make it 8-0 with another clutch two-out RBI single.

"It felt really good pitching today," Rocha said. "I hit batters three innings a row but I was able to pitch around them. Felt great getting the clutch two-out RBIs to help us win. We all hit well with two-outs. We want to celebrate tonight and then shock the world at Minooka on Friday."

"We came out expecting to win and we went out behind Alex (Rocha) and made the plays and won the game," Dunne said. "We all had good at bats today and did the job. I go up to the plate with my thoughts on helping us win. What an incredible day."

On Friday at 4:30 p.m. the Steelmen will take on the top-seeded Indians of Minooka (17-10), in a RegionaL C semifinal.

"Alex just threw strikes for us today," Joliet Central coach Kevin Fitzgerald said. "Alex is a fierce competitor on the mound and he showed how talented he is today to back it up. When we make plays early on, we focus and we play well defensively. We made the plays today and with Alex making the pitches we had a great all-around game.

"Two out magic — that is something we have struggled all season with and that is the ability to hit with men on base. We were outstanding today led by Alex (Rocha) and Gabe (Dunne), who have led us all season. It was great to see everyone getting involved in clutch-hitting today. We have played Minooka twice this year and we know they are a good team. We will go down there and give it our best and see what happens."

 

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