By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Ahead in the count and not needing to pad the Quincy Notre Dame baseball team's lead, Joey Polak could have morphed into Casey at the Bat and taken a mighty swing.
But that's not his style.
The sophomore third baseman stayed true to his patient approach, fighting off a 3-1 pitch on the outside half of the plate before crushing a fastball to deep center field for an RBI double that added an exclamation point to the Raiders' 11-2 victory over Quincy High School on Tuesday night at QU-Stadium.
The Raiders swept the four-game season series, outscoring the Blue Devils 39-7.
"Especially with our team, early in the season, we got in the lead and we just kind of coasted," said Polak, who finished 2 for 4 with five RBIs as QND improved to 20-2. "So right before that inning, (QND coach Chris) Martin said we start how we finish and we have to finish how we start. We did that, and that's why we were able to finish the scoring strong."
From start to finish, the Raiders took the right approach.
Instead of being overly aggressive against QHS left-hander Dillon Gilbert, QND's hitters worked the count, forcing him to throw 83 pitches in four innings. Of the 26 batters Gilbert faced, 10 were able to make the at-bat last four or more pitches.
The longest at-bat was by Justin Tallman in the first inning as he forced Gilbert to throw 10 pitches, fouling off four two-strike pitches and ultimately drawing a walk.
"The thing we always talk about is making sure we do everything we can to control what we're trying to do up there, whether that's at the plate or in the field," Martin said. "For the most part, our guys did a good job of staying in the game for seven innings and executing what we wanted to do."
That meant putting pressure on the Blue Devils.
In the top of the second inning, the Raiders' Blaine Wilson and Tanner Zanger led off with back-to-back singles before Tony Stella dropped down a near-perfect sacrifice bunt. However, QHS second baseman Matt Tossick dropped the throw at first base, allowing Stella to reach safely.
Staying aggressive on the basepaths, Wilson rounded third base hard and scored on the error for a 1-0 lead.
After a flyball to center, Austin Ridder walked and Polak popped out into foul territory behind first base as Tossick made a sliding catch. However, Zanger tagged up and scored on the play.
Tallman followed with a two-run double to right field, and the last run of the inning scored on an error following Jordan Chapel's single to left field.
Like that, it was a five-run deficit.
"That's kind of been the case all season," said QHS coach Brigham John, whose team has trailed as deep as the fourth inning nine times this season. "So we're kind of used to it."
It also gives the Blue Devils the chance to show their scrappy side.
QHS (10-12) plated a run in the second as Ben Mero led off with a single, took second on a passed ball and scored on an error. In the fifth, a lead-off single by Andrew Hugenberg and an infield single by Mitchell Horman plated another run.
"We always tell our guys not to die," QHS shortstop Alex Million said. "You have to give the effort and 110 percent. The moment you die, you're automatically out of it."
Still, the Blue Devils left seven runners on base in the last four innings.
"We needed to put the ball in play a couple more times," said Hugenberg, who went 2 for 3. "We left a lot of runners on base, but they're pitching was solid."
Tallman pitched the first three innings, allowing one hit and striking out four. Zach Vahle pitched the final four innings, allowing five hits, walking one and striking out six.
They simply made it too difficult for QHS to rally.
"Early on, they put some good pieces together at the plate and they were scratching some runs across," John said. "Playing catch-up against a good team with those kind of pitchers on the mound is tough."