AIKEN — Only one inning had passed, but St. Rita baseball coach Mike Zunica had seen enough.
If this was going to be the kind of effort he was going to see – his Mustangs had a poor pickoff attempt and an ill-advised rundown – Zunica made it clear the bus was waiting to take his team back to the Chicago area.
St. Rita answered by going on to a 11-2 rout South Aiken in the teams’ series finale Saturday afternoon at South Aiken.
“We just want to respect the game,” Zunica said.
“There’s quality people down here, and that’s not the show we want to put on.”
After the two sides split the first two games in the series, South Aiken took an early lead.
The Thoroughbreds went up 1-0 in the bottom of the first on Saturday, with Thomas Sanderson reaching and then moving to second and third after a pickoff miscue.
He later scored when the Thoroughbreds sacrificed a runner in a rundown, as Sanderson came home before the out was made between first and second.
But St. Rita – which has won two Illinois state titles since 2005 – took the lead for good after its next four hitters delivered.
The Mustangs wound up scoring three runs in the second and a combined 10 runs in the second, third and fourth innings.
Most of the damage came on singles, but the bigger hits came in the five-run fourth.
With two men on and his team up 5-1, Chad Prieto drove in two on a double. Then, after an Andrew Massey RBI single, Rick Faron cleared the wall with a two-run home run.
Though South Aiken found itself down big, the Thoroughbreds had opportunities to close the gap.
Two batters reached in both the third and the fourth innings, but pitcher Jake Shepski thrived in jams, including one in the fifth when South Aiken loaded the bases with two out.
South Aiken didn’t break through again until the seventh, when Sanderson doubled and John Leopard singled off the third baseman’s glove.
Though the loss gave St. Rita the series win, Thoroughbreds coach Bob Polewski, who’s a longtime friend of Zunica, is hoping the experience is beneficial as the state playoffs get closer.
“Some kids swung the bat and that’s what we want to see getting into the playoffs,” he said.