GLEN CARBON, Ill. – The Father McGivney Griffins have plenty of options when it comes to closing out a baseball game on the mound.

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For some time now the obvious choice was senior Ryker Keller. But head coach Chris Erwin has entrusted a new arm to try and get the job done.

Junior Evan Koontz, listed as a utility player, was tasked with getting the last six outs of Monday’s regional championship game against Calhoun. He struck out four batters.

So, when McGivney was in deep waters with the Christ Our Rock Lutheran Silver Stallions in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal, the choice was made to let Koontz out into the limelight again.

“Well, when I was told to go warm up, the thought of Monday came to mind,” Koontz said. “I was like, all I got to do was go out there and keep doing the same thing I was doing. Keep calm, don’t let it rush to my head and I’ll be good.”

Christ Our Rock and Father McGivney, typical rivals during the regular season in the Gateway Metro Conference, traded single runs in the fourth inning in a game that became a pitcher’s duel.

Griffins’ starter Isaac Wendler threw the first six innings, striking out nine batters while only allowing one unearned run with one walk.

Koontz was picked over Keller to come out and close the game.

“That’s hard,” Erwin said about having to make the decision between the two.

“I think in this game here I thought [Christ Our Rock’s] bats were slow, so I was trying to pick somebody with a little more velocity. I just thought we could throw it by them, and Evan did.”

“During that game, we made the decision to go to Evan, because Ryker’s more of a spot guy, breaking pitch. Evan’s got a good breaking pitch, but he’s got a little more velocity than Ryker. So, at that moment, I thought going with Evan was the best decision,” Erwin said.

It’s definitely a good problem to have, especially when trying to get back to the Class 1A state tournament.

Wednesday’s game saw the first 12 batters retired for a perfect first two innings. Gerald Myatt scratched home a single when he reached on a bunt in the third.

McGivney, the away team on their own field after losing the coin flip, batted first, and they scored first in the top of the fourth.

After Kannon Kamp struck out, Drew Kleinheider reached on an error. Kleinheider proceeded to steal second and then third after a wild throw to the base. Nick Franklin’s sacrifice flyout brought Kleinheider home for the 1-0 lead.

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It didn’t last long.

Christ Our Rock responded immediately.

After Jayden Bazile’s leadoff single, another batter reached on a sacrifice bunt and got to second after Wendler’s wild throw to first, allowing Bazile to score and tie the game at 1-1.

Wendler got out of the jam and closed the inning with three straight strikeouts.

“I thought that was huge,” Erwin said. “That was the turning point in the game for us. When you give up a run in a game like this, you don’t know what happens.”

Bazile was the bright spot for the Stallions.

He pitched a complete nine-inning game. He struck out seven while only giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk. All while staying below the IHSA-regulated postseason pitch limit, needing just 110 pitches to get through the afternoon.

“That guy has thrown twice against us now and given us fits for, what, 19 innings,” Erwin joked about Bazile. “I give him a lot of credit. I told him after the game that he’s maybe the best pitcher we’ve faced all year, maybe outside the IMG [Academy] guys.”

Bazile pitched eight innings in McGivney’s narrow 2-1 win back on May 11. He struck out five while only allowing one earned run on three hits.

“That guy has kept us off balance now for a lot of innings and he did another great job today,” Erwin added.

McGivney finally found the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, thanks to a veteran at-bat from Kamp. He worked a leadoff walk and then stole second. Franklin’s flyout moved him to third and then it was Justin Terhaar’s RBI single to give McGivney the 2-1 lead, one they’d hold on to for the win.

“He’s been hitting the ball all season,” Erwin said about Terhaar. “But, from a Justin standpoint, I love the kid to death. He works his tail off. He’s a great player and for him to come through in the clutch is not surprising

Koontz went back out on the mound to close the game and got through it after hitting the lead-off man. He went strikeout, popout, strikeout to close the game.

Erwin is thrilled to have another go-to arm in his closer rotation.

“Without a doubt,” Erwin said. “He has grown so much over the season; it’s just been fun to watch. There’s some guys that you know are going to be good and are going to have good seasons. I thought Evan could have a good season. He struggled throwing strikes early, and then as of late, we’ve really talked about getting in the right mindset to pitch. I think he’s really embraced that.”

The win brought the Griffins to 33-4 on the season and it was their fifth win in a row. McGivney has won 10 of its last 11 and moves on to the sectional championship against No. 2-seeded Greenfield on Saturday, May 25 at 11 a.m.

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