A Westhill baseball season that started with a battle over senior J.C. Pena’s eligibility that got decided in State Supreme Court ended with Pena on the mound, trying to deliver a Section III Class B championship.
But Pena could not quite pull it off, and another band of Warriors, from Clinton, managed to prevail 5-3 in Monday’s Class B final at DeLutis Field in Rome.
It was a clash of the sectional tournament’s top two seeds, though Westhill came in with all the recent history of success, having won three of the previous four sectional titles and state championship in 2009 and 2010.
Clinton, the top seed, ignored all this pedigree and played on even terms with Westhill, the sides trading early runs as, twice, Clinton went out in front, by scores of 1-0 and 2-1, only to have Westhill answer both times to pull even.
Pena, who hit a solo home run in the top of the third inning, was pitching on three days’ rest, a necessity since ace Ben Walsh had taken the mound a day earlier, tossing a three-hit shutout as the Warriors beat Vernon-Verona-Sherrill 7-0 in the Class B semifinals.
Before the game, a long discussion between the coaches and umpires took place regarding Pena’s pitching motion, which Clinton coaches claimed was illegal. Westhill coach Bob Weismore said the delay, and the controversy, upset Pena, but he settled into a rhythm and fared well in the game’s middle section.
Anthony Rizzo, Clinton’s pitcher, was also working on three days’ rest, and he was just as effective. Clinton head coach Tom Pfisterer called Rizzo a “pure pitcher” whose ability to stay around the plate forced Westhill hitters into bad contact, and easy outs.
Entering the bottom of the sixth, it was still tied 2-2. Westhill appeared to escape trouble when Pena picked off Mike Hayduk following Hayduk’s one-out single. But then Pena walked Andrew Hobika and Justin Jandke, putting runners on first and second with two out.