TEUTOPOLIS — Behind the right-side bleachers in the middle of the third inning, a train loudly rumbled past as Teutopolis’ Jared Waldhoff bared down on Flora’s Clayton Walden for the pitcher’s fifth strikeout. It was a blatant but appropriate metaphor for the Shoes this postseason.
T-Town’s offense gave Waldhoff plenty of support as the Shoes knocked off Flora 10-0 to advance to the Teutopolis Sectional championship game.
Waldhoff, now 7-0 and 2-0 in the playoffs, was as dominant as he’s been all season, allowing three hits and never let a runner past second base. He aggressively went after the Wolves, forcing opposing batters to go on the offensive. And after seeing Waldhoff’s fastball, multiple Flora batters went down swinging in front of a third strike.
“He throws a little bit of a curveball and he has worked on a changeup ever since he got up here, and he has a live enough fastball to make them all effective,” T-Town coach Justin Fleener said.
Waldhoff’s line from Wednesday was eerily similar to his regional game against Robinson, when he struck out one more batter.
“We’ve been building toward it all year. Just kind of get lucky, I guess,” Waldhoff said. “You kind of work for it, prepare for it all winter. You just hope it pays off whenever the time comes.”
Through the first week and a half of playoff baseball, Teutopolis has treated it basically the same as the regular season, when three separate starters have ERAs under 1.00. Through his two playoff games, Waldhoff has a 0.67 WHIP and 17 strikeouts. Add in Kyle Pruemer’s start, and the Shoes have given up just seven hits total for the three playoff games.
Even though Waldhoff’s pitching prowess gave the Shoes plenty of breathing room, the offense still turned red hot in the fifth inning. Bobby Wenthe hit his second home run of the postseason to lead off, and the rest of the lineup him drew three walks and sprinkled in five hits for a seven-run inning.
It kept up a T-Town offense that’s been trending upward during each playoff game. After managing four runs against Robinson, the Shoes tacked on eight against Marshall and then improved again on Wednesday.
Until the fifth, though, Flora had kept T-Town within distance. But after a double play wiped out two leadoff singles in the fourth, the Wolves couldn’t recover.
“We talked about trying to shorten the game and try to win more innings than they did,” Flora coach Brian Tackitt said. “But when you face a kid like the Waldhoff kid and you get two leadoff singles, what’s he gong to do? He’s going to toughen up.
“Maybe I could have done a few things, bunted them over, but we needed more than the two runs and I didn’t want giving up outs when it’s so hard getting hits against a kid like that anyway.”
Home, sweet home
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For all the sectionals Teutopolis has been in, the Shoes have never played at home. At least, never that the 13-year head coach Fleener could find. But the rain and wind this week didn’t make it easy. Fleener said winds knocked the tarp off the infield and forced the Shoes to prepare the field nearly as much as themselves for the game.
“We were pretty excited to get the sectionals here this year,” second baseman Reed Hardiek said. “Actually, the field was real wet. We’ve probably worked 12 hours on the field this past week trying to get ready for this.”
And not having to travel has its perks as well.
“During practice, today we took BP on the field before, and pretty much had a whole practice before the game,” Hardiek said. “That helps.”
Moving on up
After several recent 20-win seasons, Flora broke through with its first regional title in 11 years.
“It’ll hold a special place in my heart, because it’s my first regional as a coach. You know, after 11 years, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “We’ve won 20 (games) three out of the last four years now, and we kind of expect that as the kids come into the program each year. I think we set that precedent this year.”
T-Town always seems to have pitching, but the offense this year is good top to bottom. As a junior, Hardiek had a solid season and hits eighth in the order. He and Cody Will gave T-Town the first three runs of the game in the eighth and ninth spots and a jumpstart to the game.
“They’ve done that quite often. They put the bat on the ball and make something happen, and get something going for that top of the lineup,” Fleener said. “We got some runs in there and break that pressure, that 0-0 tie. Reed’s having a good year, Cody’s coming on here late real well.”
The Shoes will play Shelbyville on Saturday. The Rams beat Harrisburg 3-2 in extras on Wednesday and are hoping the game goes better than the one on May 12, when T-Town beat Shelbyville 10-2.