REGION 7C TOURNAMENT: Bluejays lean on pitching to knock off top-seeded Watertown to secure state tournament bid

HAMBURG – More than 600 people crammed into Hawks Field to see the top two seeds in Region 7C battle it out for a state tournament bid. They all were treated to a heck of a game as they witness the Plato Bluejays knock off the top-seed in the tournament and the No. 2 team in the state to claim a spot in the Class C state tournament with a 1-0 win Thursday night.

“There was a buzz in here tonight,” Plato manager Nolan Lepel said. “It was awesome. We came into it with our backs against the wall. It was win or go home. That’s what we said all week. We had to leave everything on the field and that’s what we did. We came out on top and it’s awesome.”

“You can’t draw it up any better,” Dane Schwirtz added. “You got bases loaded and a full count and ended it with a strikeout. We knew it was going to be a tough game and of course it was.”

Offense was hard to come by both teams in the pitching dual. The two teams combined for just six hits as the lone run of the game came into the second inning. Reece Schwirtz started the rally for the Bluejays with a one-out double. After moving over to third on a wild pitch, Adam Prehn gave his team a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly and RBI.

That run proved to be the game-winner as the Red Devils struggled to find the clutch hit. Despite having chances throughout, Watertown couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and leaving 11 runners on base as they saw their season come to an end.

Drew Hedtke set the tone early on for the Bluejays on the mound getting the start. He went seven scoreless innings allowing just two hits before turning things over to Will Hoernemann.

The final two innings for Hoernemann weren’t exactly stress-free. Watertown had the tying run at second with one out but a strikeout and flyout got the Bluejays out of the inning with the lead intact.

The ninth inning wasn’t any easier for Plato needing just three outs to reach the state tournament. A two-out single from Andrew Nichols put runners on the corners for the Red Devils. After intentionally walking Pat Tschida, Hoernemann delivered the final blow for the Bluejays with a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch to send Plato to the state tournament for the second year in a row.

“He said don’t worry about me and that he’s going to make the pitches,” Lepel said about Hoernemann. “Will is a gamer. He wanted the ball and he shut it down.”

“Our pitchers are so good,” Schwirtz said. “Tschida is a great hitter so we put him on and as soon as we got the full count I knew Will had him. He’s a great player and we had no doubt in him. Any of our pitchers on the mound, we have faith in all of them. We’re behind them and we have faith that we can win by putting up just one run if we need to. We want more but we have great pitchers on the mound that can lead us when we need.”

Plato advances to the seeding portion of the Region 7C Tournament where they will take on the winner of Carver and Mayer. The Bluejays rattled off back-to-back wins after getting upset by the Carver Black Sox in the opening round of the region tournament.

“It shows they got grit and we’re not going to stay down long,” Lepel said about the team bouncing back after the loss. “This group has been slowly climbing the ladder every year. You go back to 2020 and we won one game. We came back the next year and won the division title. We’ve just slowly kept climbing. This year we really leaned on our pitching. We don’t have to score a lot because we’re not going to give up much and that’s awesome.”

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