An uneven start ultimately doomed the Rams in their state semifinal game against Joliet Catholic on Friday.
“It was important for us to get off to a good start, and it was a tough day to have a couple bad innings,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Holloway said.
Mt. Vernon surrendered four runs in the opening two innings. Joliet Catholic's early offense ended up being the difference in the 4-0 win for the Hilltoppers.
“Again it's just a credit to these guys and just the rest of the team on how they've just stayed the course,” Joliet Catholic coach Jared Voss said. “And how committed they were day in and day out.”
Mitch Boe opened the bottom of the first with a single off Mt. Vernon starter Brock Fulkerson. He moved to second after a sacrifice bunt. Fulkerson hit the next batter and the bases loaded when Nick Dalesandro knocked a single.
The Hilltoppers pushed their first run across when Fulkerson hit Ryan Peter. Joliet Catholic grabbed a 2-0 edge when Trevor Flota moved to his left but wasn't able to corral a grounder.
Joliet Catholic kept the pressure on the Rams in the second inning. The first two batters reached on infield singles and moved up a base after another sacrifice bunt.
Chris Tschida followed with a single to make the advantage 3-0. Another runner raced home after Landon Thomas misplayed the hit in center field.
From the third inning on, Fulkerson found his rhythm, working quickly and effectively. The junior allowed just two hits in the final four innings.
“I got settled down, started concentrating a little more hitting spots,” Fulkerson said.
Mt. Vernon struggled to generate chances offensively against Hilltoppers starter Sam Couch. The righty pounded the strike zone and kept Rams hitters off balance all game long.
“That's the tough thing is we didn't look like ourselves,” Holloway said.” But they had something to do with that. (Couch) did a good job starting that slider on the outer half. He was running it off the plate.”
The Rams finished with four hits in the game. Mt. Vernon's best chance of the game came in the second inning down 2-0.
A pair of mistakes from the Hilltoppers defense and hits from Matthew Williams and Sawyer Harrison helped the Rams load the bases. Hayden Poninski came up with two outs, but the designated hitter ended the inning with a strikeout.
Several other times, Rams batter stung the ball off Couch, but the defense behind him made the play each time.
Mt. Vernon uncharacteristically struggled at times in the field. A pop up on the infield dropped without a Rams player laying a glove on it to start the second in addition to the typically sure-handed Thomas' miscue in center.
“Brock didn't pitch bad,” Holloway said. “We make some plays early, we're not in those situations. He made pitches and we unfortunately didn't make some plays at times.”
Mt. Vernon is 31-9-1 this season and faces Grayslake at 9 a.m. today. Joliet Catholic plays for the 3A state title against Wheaton St. Francis at 11:30 a.m.