A year after going 11-17 the Jonesville Comets baseball team has guaranteed itself at least a share of the Big Eight regular season crown.
The Comets were able to get to one of the league’s best pitchers, Brandon Stempien, and senior Joe Kroa crushed the first two homers of his entire career as Jonesville downed Quincy 4-3 and 9-5 in the most crucial contests of the Big Eight season.
The Comets came into the doubleheader with a 9-1 league mark, while the Orioles sported an 8-1 Big Eight record.
Now Jonesville needs to win just one of its final two games, against Union City and Springport, to clinch an outright championship.
“We’re more stable this year and my coaching position was set, unlike last year. We never lacked any confidence and the guys definitely put in the time,” Jonesville head coach Dale Steward said. “Our goal has been to win the conference and win districts, because Jonesville hasn’t won a district title in who knows how long. We’ve got one goal out of the way.”
The first contest was back and forth with the Orioles taking a 3-2 lead in the fourth, but the Comets would have the final say.
Kroa’s homer broke a 3-all tie in the top of the seventh inning and Ben Stemen held Quincy off the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning to complete the victory.
“He got a fastball and it was just up in the zone a little bit,” Quincy head coach Brett Allman said about Kroa’s long-ball off his ace Stempien, who pitched a perfect game earlier this season.
Stemen added a home run and John Sigler and Casey Clow had two hits apiece as the Comets took the first step toward securing the title.
Stemen struck out seven and scattered eight hits while giving up three runs, two earned.
Stempien’s final line was seven innings pitched, seven strikeouts, eight hits and four runs, two of which were earned.
Both Stempien and Eric Stetler had two hits, while Shane Rider, Joe Neely and Kiefer Lah all drove in runs.
In the nightcap the Comets jumped on the Orioles for six runs in the third inning, and while Allman’s squad fought back, they never fully recovered.
Kroa’s 3-run homer in the third inning was the finisher and Jay Bearden added three singles.
Despite the results Thursday, Allman was still proud of his boys.
“It was 0-0 through the top of three in the second game, so I don’t think we (put to much pressure on ourselves after the first loss). The difference really is just that they hit the ball well throughout the lineup and we didn’t,” he said. “Anytime you don’t reach one goal you have to keep your head up and realize there are other goals still out there to go after. I was proud we fought in the second game after going down 8-0 and I told the kids that.”
Lance Hammill had three hits including a double and Phil Fast and Stetler drove in runs for the Orioles, who were Big Eight co-champs in 2008.
Sigler earned the pitching victory, giving up eight hits and five runs in five-and-two-third innings, while Stetler took the loss, with nine runs on nine hits and five strikeouts.
“They have basically every starter back from last year and Dale has done a good job with those guys. A few years ago their JV team did finish second, just a game behind us in the league, so it’s not as big a surprise as you might think,” Allman said.
The Comets are now 17-5 overall, while the Orioles fall to 15-9.