MOUNT ZION – A freakish bullpen accident knocked Jonah Smith out for several weeks.
The Mount Zion junior suffered a fractured ankle when a ball drilled him from behind while protecting the catcher during warm-ups.
He returned from that injury just a couple weeks ago.
It would be impossible to tell.
Smith blasted MacArthur and helped fuel the Braves to an 11-1 victory in five innings in the Class 3A Mount Zion Regional semifinal Wednesday.
Mount Zion will advance to the regional final against either Champaign Central or Mattoon on Saturday. Their game was postponed to today due to rain.
Smith manned center field Wednesday and finished 3-for-3 at the plate with four RBIs. He quickly fired off a 2-RBI triple to the left field fence in the second inning to get the offense rolling.
“I was just seeing the ball pretty well out of the pitchers' hands and just squared it up three times,” Smith said.
By all indications, Smith's also ready for the mound.
Smith, a dominant left-handed pitcher committed to Illinois State University, made his first start since the injury against Danville on May 16 and allowed just one hit in five innings.
“It feels great,” Smith said. “The first couple games I was really hyped. The first time I pitched I was really hyped and I needed to settle down a little bit. But I made a couple of adjustments and I'm back in the groove again.
“I'm for sure ready to pitch. Whenever the coach needs me, I'm ready to pitch.”
The Braves (23-7) just need lead-off hitter Sammy Schultz back in the lineup. He recently sprained his ankle and sat out Wednesday. He's questionable for the regional final.
“It always seems like this time of year we get the injury bug,” Mount Zion coach Matt Smith said of Schultz. “But he's working hard with the trainer and he's in here doing ankle exercises. We're hoping to get him to play some. If he's going to play, I want to make sure he's able to contribute. I just don’t want to throw him out there. He has to be able to produce.”
Mount Zion's depth made that moot against the Generals.
Its entire lineup contributed a hit for the Braves and totaled 14. That included a clutch 2-RBI double by sophomore second baseman Kooper Loehr in the No. 9 hole for a 7-1 lead in the third inning.
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Mount Zion led 8-1 by the end of the third after scoring five runs off six hits, which was triggered by a Merrik Eddington solo home run.
Mitchell Binder and AJ Davis had two hits apiece.
“We do have some depth,” coach Smith said. “Maybe as a coach it's not the best thing, but it is. You got to figure out what pieces or buttons to push. I have great assistant coaches who give me their input and I have a great group of kids who understand it's not about an individual, it's about the program.”
MacArthur initially challenged the Braves through the first couple of innings. The Generals loaded up the bases in the top of the third with a 3-0 deficit. However, they managed just one run off an error.
MacArthur's Omari Morgret wasn't far off the cycle. He went 3-for-3 with a single, double and triple. But that was about all the offense the Generals could muster against Mount Zion starting pitcher Daniel Chausse.
The sophomore featured a gnarly curveball and fanned eight batters with no earned runs in four innings of work.
“I tell you what, he's really impressed this year,” coach Smith said of Chausse. “Going into the season, I didn't expect a lot and he keeps getting confidence and the coaches are enjoying watching him throw. And the boys are accepting him as a sophomore and that's the great thing about our team. They all accept one another. It doesn't matter what year you are. That's just great leadership among the players.”
The senior catcher Eddington has a knack for home runs.
That was his eighth of the season.
He's just been slightly eclipsed by fellow first baseman Andrew Auton, who has 10 jacks.
“I couldn't be happier for them both because the hard work is paying off,” coach Smith said of Auton and Eddington. “Auton had a great sophomore year and then last year people knew him and they knew to attack him differently. This year, he's just made another adjustment and that's what you have to do to be a good player. People are going to keep making adjustments on you and you're going to have to make adjustments on them.
“Eddington, he's been a kid who's been a starting catcher since he was a freshman. He struggled offensively for three years and he's an on-base machine. He's right around the .400 mark and having a great year for us.”
“We've been waiting for a while (for the postseason). We're hyped up and it showed right there. We were hitting the ball pretty well.” – Jonah Smith