MINOOKA – Plainfield North junior left-hander Kyle Strepek said he loves the warm weather.
Wednesday afternoon offered the perfect setting for him to keep the Tigers’ hopes alive for their fifth Southwest Prairie baseball championship in six years.
Strepek (9-0) threw shutout ball through six innings, allowed three unearned runs in the seventh and had four of North’s 15 hits as the Tigers dominated Minooka, 7-3.
The scene switches to North on Thursday afternoon for the finale of the decisive three-game series. Minooka (23-6, 17-3) took advantage of some good fortune Tuesday and scored four runs in the top of the seventh to win the opener, 6-5.
The Tigers (25-6, 17-3) showed up Wednesday in a foul mood after letting Game 1 slip through their grasp. They jumped on Indians starter Mitch Malone for two runs on four hits in the first inning and never quit swinging the bats.
In contrast, Minooka, managed one hit through four innings and finished with five against Strepek, who struck out five and walked one.
“[Strepek] pitched a nice game,” Minooka pitching coach Jim Lamping said. “He has a different kind of motion. I think it took our hitters a couple of times through the lineup before they started figuring him out.”
“We haven’t seen a lot of lefties, either,” Indians assistant Derrick Rapsky said.
North coach John Darlington said he would be glad to have a string of left-handed pitchers at his disposal.
“I don’t care who you are, good left-handers are hard to hit,” he said. “But Kyle has pitched like this the last three times out. He was around the plate all day. He was outstanding.”
Strepek said he enjoyed working with the early lead, and you can’t beat a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the 80s.
“I love warm weather and hate cold weather,” Strepek said. “The kind of day it was, I had command of my fastball and I had my curve.
“I can deal with having a lot of runs behind me, too.”
An outfielder when not on the mound, Strepek said he is more successful at the plate on days he pitches, for whatever reason.
Strepek went 4 for 5, scored twice and drove in a run. Matt Welch, Jack Butler, Richard Bryza, Jack Dunham and Zach Jarosz had two hits. Dunham drove in two runs and Bryza’s double was the only extra-base hit in the game.
The Tigers’ third through sixth runs all came compliments of two-out singles, with Dunham, Strepek, Jarosz and Welch delivering those clutch hits.
“We were seeing the ball well,” Darlington said. “We sat on the fastball and got good swings. We hadn’t hit the ball like that in three weeks.”
“They came ready to play and we did not,” Minooka assistant Derrick Rapsky said.
Lamping and Rapsky fielded questions afterward as coach Jeff Petrovic had to leave for another commitment.
Jon Vesper had two hits for the Indians, and an error on a ground ball he hit in the seventh, scoring the first run and led to the three unearned runs. Tyler Paulsen and Kenny Walsh knocked in the other runs with infield outs.
The probable pitching matchup for the winner-take-all finale of the series is Minooka’s Joe Butler against North’s Robert Gesbocker.