Butler leads No. 12 Minooka past No. 19 Plainfield North

By Ryan Quigley
Area Scout

PLAINFIELD, IL-A grueling 21-game conference schedule came down to one game between the top two programs in the Southwest Prairie Conference on Thursday at Plainfield North. No. 12 Minooka (24-6, 18-3) won the opener on Tuesday 6-5, and No. 19 Plainfield North (25-7, 17-4) battled back Wednesday with a 7-3 victory, setting the stage for Thursday’s winner-take-all showdown.

While only a sophomore, Minooka’s Joe Butler has plenty of experience competing at the varsity level, thanks to starring on the hardwood for the Indians in the wintertime. The cool and collected 6-foot-2 right hander tossed a two-hit complete game to lead Minooka to a 3-2 victory and the Southwest Prairie championship. Butler also helped himself by contributing two of the Indians’ five hits.

Minooka struck first in the second inning off Plainfield North senior starter Robbie Gesbocker. Butler singled with one out, Jon Vesper walked, and Tyler Paulsen singled to center to load the bases for senior Mitch Vogrin. Vogrin grounded sharply to Plainfield North third basemen Richard Bryza, who made a spectacular diving play.  Bryza rushed to get up and throw home to force out Butler, but the throw sailed high to the backstop, plating both Butler and Vesper, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead. 

Minooka added to the lead again, loading the bases in the third thanks to walk by junior outfielder Cristian Sanchez and a single to right by junior designated hitter Brennan Polcyn.  A double steal moved up the runners, and Vesper was hit by a pitch to load the bases.  Vesper finished 1-for-1 on the day with a walk, hit by pitch, and run scored.  Plainfield North’s Matt Vanek replaced Gesbocker during the rally and balked in Sanchez to increase the Minooka lead to 3-0.  Vanek escaped any further damage by inducing a ground out to second.

With a 3-0 cushion, Butler was efficient and in complete control.  Butler retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced between the second and sixth innings, resulting in a six-pitch second inning and a four-pitch fifth inning. 

The final four frames were a pitching duel between Butler and Plainfield North sophomore right hander Josh Garner.  Garner kept North in the game, twirling four innings of two hit ball with two walks and two strikeouts.  Pitching off a mid 80’s fastball and sharp downer curve, Garner escaped damage in the top half of the sixth after loading the bases.  With two outs he struck out Lewis bound senior shortstop Neal Tyrell on a nasty 2-2 breaking ball down in the zone.

Entering the bottom half of the sixth inning, Butler had thrown 52 pitches, but his mettle would be tested in a 33-pitch sixth as Plainfield North attempted to claw their way back into the game.  With one out Butler walked Tiger’s second basemen Bryan VanDuser, who later took second on a wild pitch.  Junior designated hitter Kyle Strepek (the star of North’s game two victory) singled sharply between third and short.  A throwing error by Minooka’s left fielder pushed Strepek to second base, and took away any double play opportunity.  With runners on second and third and one out, senior first  basemen Jack Butler grounded to short in what would have been a tailor made double play ball, but another Indians error scored VanDuser from third.  Strepek scored on Bryza’s sacrifice fly to center field, but Butler escaped any further damage getting Garner to fly out to right.

After a long sixth, there was no doubt in Butler’s mind or Minooka’s coach Jeff Petrovic that he was the man to finish the job. 

 “Joe is mature beyond his years and unfazed in pressure situations thanks to his basketball experience in the winter,” Petrovic said. “We have to be careful with his arm because he’s also our starting third basemen and he’s so important to us in our lineup”. 

Butler rewarded Petrovic’s confidence setting down the bottom of Plainfield North’s lineup in order on nine pitches to cap off his outstanding day. 

“Even after the errors in the sixth, I had all the confidence in the world in my defense, and knew that if I just kept throwing strikes those guys would make plays behind me like they have all year,” Butler said. “I had a good feeling if I got through the sixth against the tough part of their order, I’d go 1-2-3 in seventh.”

 Butler did just that, retiring the number 7-9 hitters in Plainfield North’s lineup on nine pitches to cap off a spectacular complete-game two hit performance with two strikeouts and two walks.  He also finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two singles and a run scored.

Offensively, the Tigers could only put together two hits off Butler as Strepek finished 1-for-3 with a single, while Jack Butler was 1-for-2 with a walk.

Minooka takes back the Southwest Prairie Conference title held by Plainfield North.

 “It’s nice to get the conference title back from those guys (North) since they’ve had a stranglehold on it the last few years,” Petrovic said. “It means a lot because top to bottom our conference has gotten so much better, and the twenty-one game schedule is really a grind.  The three game conference format really tests each team’s pitching depth, and it’s a great format to prepare us going into the IHSA playoffs.  It’s one of our goals each year, and it really is great that this was the last series of the year, because John’s (Darlingotn) really built a top program at North”.

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