By Chris Parker
Willard took early control of its Class 5 state semifinal against Marquette staking pitcher Garrett Rice to a 3-1 lead after one inning, but a furious rally in the top of the seventh would give Marquette a come-from-behind 4-3 win.
Both Rice and Marquette starting pitcher Ian Lohse labored a bit in the first inning.
Marquette scratched across one run on back-to-back doubles in the first inning.
Willard responded in their half of the inning. Ethan Thompson reached on a dropped third strike to start the inning. He moved up on a Rice groundout before Noah Wooldridge brought Thompson home on a single through the right side. A Grant Harris double gave Willard runners at second and third when a balk would bring Wooldridge home for Willard’s second run. Cole Biellier would end the scoring with a single up the middle to bring Harris home.
Both pitchers settled in from there with no more scoring in the game until the seventh inning when things would fall apart for Willard.
“We were really close. We had a runner on first with one out and our left fielder makes a diving catch, and with a perfect throw from left the game is over. Then we had a runner on first with two outs and hitter we had success against, and he does a good job and singles up the middle. We still felt really good, but didn’t quite get it done,” Willard Head Coach Scott McGee said.
A booming double off the right field wall by Hunter Miller tied the game. Miller would advance to third on a wild pitch and score on a throwing error to give Marquette its 4-3 advantage.
In the bottom of the inning, Willard got a single from Rice with one out. He stole second with two outs to give the Tigers a chance, but Marquette reliever Braden Barnard would strike out the side to seal the game.
Strikeouts were a theme for Willard with Marquette pitching recording 16 strikeouts of Willard batters.
“We pitched really well but we struck out too much on offense. That’s really what hurt us. We struck out 16 times and it is tough to win when you strike out 16 of your 21 outs,” McGee said. “It felt like maybe we just got a little too big in situations and didn’t do enough to put the ball in play with two strikes.”
Willard will now face the loser of the DeSmet-Staley semifinal for third place tomorrow morning at 11 am.
McGee’s message for his team after tough loss will be simple.
“End the season strong. We have dealt with adversity all year in a lot of ways. How you respond to adversity is important,” McGee said. “Ultimately we would have loved to win today, but that’s just not the way baseball works; not every time is it going to go the way you want it to.”