Westville baseball leads PBL 9-1; game to be finished Friday

May 17—TOLONO — Ben Johnson will surely be reminded of his first career home run when he arrives at school on Friday.

And a few hours later when he and his teammates return to Tolono, where Johnson's three-run home run propelled Westville's baseball team into a 9-1 lead against Paxton-Buckley-Loda in the bottom of the third inning of a Class 2A regional semifinal game on Thursday afternoon.

"Ben had never hit a home run before and you see his smile," Westville coach Joe Brazas said. "Our bunting game worked well and once we got some guys on base, it put a lot of pressure on them."

The fifth-seeded Panthers and third-seeded Tigers each brought healthy contingents to Unity High School, where the host Rockets await the winner in Saturday's regional championship game after topping St. Thomas More 12-1 on Wednesday.

But rain arrived shortly after Johnson's home run capped an eight-run second inning and forced many fans to their cars, leading to two separate delays that combined for roughly an hour before both coaching staffs agreed to finish the game on Friday, with play resuming at 4:30 p.m.

"These things happen," Brazas said. "It's mother nature. ... We're just going to come in ready to play and hopefully we can get a victory."

Westville claimed a commanding lead before steady showers rolled over Unity High School, with Cameron Steinbaugh surrendering two hits against six strikeouts in three innings of work on the mound.

Steinbaugh helped his cause by drawing three walks at the plate, one of which came with the bases loaded to drive in Johnson for the go-ahead run in the second inning.

"They came out with really good energy and they swung it well," PBL coach Brock Niebuhr said.

PBL briefly led when Noah Steiner doubled to drive in Tyler Cole in the top of the first inning.

But Steinbaugh's first walk led to him scoring on an RBI single from Easton Barney to even the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the frame.

Drew Wichtowski, Matthew Darling, Cade Schaumburg, Chance Quick and Trey Bowling joined Johnson and Steinbaugh in crossing home plate during the second inning.

"We didn't make a couple of plays and they took advantage of it," Niebuhr said. "We know they're good offensively. You can't give a team that's good offensively extra outs, and we did that."

Westville will have an opportunity to resume its quest for a regional plaque when the game resumes; Barney will face a 3-2 count with one out and runners at first and second.

Niebuhr and the Panthers — who utilized Luke Krumwiede, Cole and Connor Vaughn on the mound during the opening innings — will be eyeing a rally of their own with the season on the line.

"I think for us, we get 22 hours to regroup," Niebuhr said. "It's 9-1 right now, but it's postseason baseball and you never know. Hopefully we can regroup and make this thing competitive and give ourselves a shot late."

Blue Devils roll. Fourth-seeded Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin cruised to an 11-1 win against 11th-seeded Wateseka on Thursday in a regional semifinal game in Bismarck.

Jordan Johnson hit a home run and went 2 for 3 with two RBI, four runs scored and two stolen bases for the Blue Devils, who advance to play top-seeded St. Joseph-Ogden at 10 a.m. Saturday in the regional title game. Enrique Rangel and Karson Stevenson each added two RBI for BHRA, with Anderson Thomas keeping Watseka off balance all game.

Thomas threw all five innings and only allowed two hits, striking out nine, and not allowing an earned run.