Demons ready for districts
Despite a speed bump in the regular season finale, it’s still business as usual for Washington baseball heading into district play.
The Demons dropped their Tuesday night game against Solon 21-2 in four innings, but nothing will change for them heading into Friday night’s game against Benton.
“I don’t think it had any effect whatsoever,” Washington baseball head coach Nathan Miller said. “We fully understand what we are capable of playing like, and when you hit the postseason, you have to bring your kids to a different level and our kids are prepared to do that.”
Near the end of the season, Washington has been involved in multiple close games, with four of its last five games (not counting the game at Solon) coming down to the final at-bat or extra innings.
The Demons were involved in two close games in a doubleheader against No. 5 Fairfield, dropping the first game 5-4, when the Trojans managed three runs in the top of the seventh, and Washington threatening, but only bringing around two runs in the bottom of the inning.
The second game went into extra innings, but the Demons lost 15-11 in the ninth.
In a doubleheader against Fort Madison, Washington won both games on walk-off hits.
“This team has had an opportunity to play for a conference title (near the end of the year),” Miller said. “We’ve played the fifth-ranked team (Fairfield) four times this year, and had a chance to beat them three times, and so we feel we are a quality team going into the postseason.”
In the final games of the season, Washington has seen improved offensive output, including a little shuffling of the batting order as Blake Weidman has taken on the cleanup spot in recent games, batting over .300 in his last five games.
“In the front half of our season, we were reliant on our first four hitters,” Miller said. “Blake Weidman, who was in the six or seven hole most of the season and now he’s bumped up to our cleanup spot, and Dakota Kron was on a fast start, but hit a mid-season lull. After the last couple weeks he has brought his average up to .308. Then we have guys like Mason Quigley whose average might not be extremely high, but he’s working a lot of walks.”
Kron has recorded multi-hit games in four of the last six games, going 9-for-20 over that span.
On the mound against Benton, Elijah Wood is penciled in to be the starter, and he will come into the game after giving up a season high four earned runs to Fairfield in his last start.
Wood came in during relief for two-thirds of an inning against Fort Madison and picked up the win, but despite the rough outing against the conference champions, still holds a sparkling 0.90 ERA.
“We just have to play at the intensity and tempo that we want to be at, and it starts on the mound,” Miller said. “Elijah has been able to throw strikes all year, so we need that out of him. Defensively we need to make all the basic plays and offensively we need to be aggressive and not be hesitant, and those are our three focuses. When we’ve sat back a little bit, those are the games we’ve struggled in.”
If the Demons can pick up the victory against Benton, they will face the winner of Solon and Center Point Urbana, and will have a decision of who to throw in the game.
Zach Londberg (4-1, 3.30 ERA in 46 2/3 innings) and Michael Gier (4-2, 3.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings) would be the most likely candidates if the Demons get to Monday’s game. They have started the most games for the Demons this season, with only seven other games started by other pitchers.
In the bullpen, Tanner Knupp might have the hottest hand after earning the win for the Demons in game two against Fort Madison, pitching three innings of one-hit ball, while Mason Quigley has put together a nice season, sporting a 1.88 ERA in 22 1/3 innings all in relief.
“Zach has been pretty consistent all season long,” Miller said. “We’ve thrown him out there for seven starts so far. It’s big for a freshman to get that many innings and he’s been solid. For Tanner, the big thing for him is the confidence. He was arguably our No. 2 pitcher last year and before that he was our nonconference starter and pitched really well. Seeing him show glimmers of what he is capable of doing is big because we may need that, because he could be a very good weapon to have in the postseason.”
The Demons will begin District play at 5 p.m. against Benton on Friday, with the game being played at Solon High School.