High School Boys Baseball
Mount Pulaski’s historic 4th place finish at State

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[June 19, 2021] 

Mount Pulaski made school history Thursday as the first Hilltoppers baseball team to ever play in a state tournament.

The Hilltoppers took on Farina South Central in the semifinals of the IHSA Class 1A Boys Baseball State Tournament at Duffy Bass Field in Normal. The Cougars defeated the Hilltoppers 11-5 in a seven-inning game that featured plenty of sunshine on the hot turf infield.

Semifinal game

The Hilltoppers started sophomore Evan Cooper on the mound in the 1 p.m. semifinal game. His day started with a double, single and walk to the first three batters. A ground out and a sacrifice fly scored the first two Cougar runs and they held a 2-0 lead after the first half-inning of play.

Chase Dodson added a two-run double in the top of the second inning and the Cougars were off to a 4-0 lead.

The Hilltoppers finally got some offense going in the bottom of the fourth inning. Jackson Fricke singled to start the inning. Clay Aylesworth entered the game to run for Fricke. After a walk to Landon Smith, the Hilltoppers occupied first and second base for Grant Davis. Davis smacked a line drive to center and Aylesworth came around to score the first Hilltoppers run. Landon Smith stopped at second but didn’t stay there long. He stole third with Gavin Smith up to bat. Landon Smith then scored the second Hilltoppers run on an error by the second baseman. The Hilltoppers Garrett Fitzpatrick and Lucas Kuhlman would draw walks to load the bases, but with Chase Dodson on the mound throwing hard, he would escape the big inning by striking out A.J. Bailey and Cooper. The Cougars lead was cut in half, 4-2 the score.

In the top of the sixth inning, the Cougars plated seven runs on six singles and a couple walks. With the score 9-2, the Cougars chased Cooper from the ballgame and Bailey came in to pitch in relief. Bailey finally got out of the inning with the Cougars on top 11-2.

Mount Pulaski scored three times in the bottom of the sixth inning. Two walks and a single were a great start to the inning, loading the bases with Hilltoppers. A walk to Bailey drove in a run. A sacrifice fly by Cooper knocked in another Mount Pulaski run. A fielder’s choice by Drew Martin sent Fitzpatrick home to score and the Hilltoppers were down 11-5.

There was a little hope for the Hilltoppers in the bottom of the seventh inning with a one-out walk and then a single to put runners on board. But a strikeout for the second out dimmed the hopes. The game ended on a grounder to the shortstop, who tossed it to second to end the game.

Mount Pulaski loses 11-5 and has a few minutes to regroup and turn around and play for third place.

Evan Cooper took the loss for Mount Pulaski. He pitched five and one-third innings. He allowed ten runs on 13 hits, striking out four batters and walking two.

A.J. Bailey pitched one and two-thirds innings. He allowed one run on two hits. He struck out one batter and walked two.

Offensively for the Hilltoppers, Drew Martin, Jackson Fricke, Grant Davis, Gavin Smith and Lucas Kuhlman each had hits.

A.J. Bailey, Evan Cooper, Drew Martin and Grant Davis had RBIs for Mount Pulaski.

Landon Smith, Gavin Smith, Garrett Fitzpatrick, Lucas Kuhlman and Clay Aylesworth scored the runs for the Hilltoppers.

Chase Dodson earned the win for Farina South Central. He allowed two runs on three hits over five innings. He struck out 11 batters and walked six.

Beau Joliff and Sebastian Cowger pitched in relief for the Cougars.

Third place game

The third place game against Newark started at 4:20 p.m. at Duffy Bass Field and this game moved quickly, with the Norsemen defeating the Hilltoppers 6-2.

Freshman Landon Smith got the nod to start the game for Mount Pulaski against the Norsemen. Three singles highlighted the first inning for Newark and they took a 2-0 lead over the Hilltoppers early on.

The Norsemen scored three more times in the top of the third inning. A two-run triple by Mitchell Kruser was the big blow. Ethan Jeffers followed with an RBI single and the Norsemen were on top 5-0.

The Hilltoppers scored their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Evan Cooper singled with one out and Drew Martin followed with a double. Jackson Fricke brought them both home on a line drive single to left field. 5-2 now the score.

The Norsemen added an RBI triple by Lucas Pasakarnis in the top of the sixth inning and that was all the offense they needed against Mount Pulaski.

Jared Slivka shut the Hilltoppers down in the final two innings and the Norsemen held on for the 6-2 win and a clinch of third place.

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Landon Smith took the loss for Mount Pulaski. He went the distance, allowing six runs on 11 hits. He struck out three batters and walked one.

Offensively for the Hilltoppers, Evan Cooper was 2-for-3 with a run scored. Landon Smith was 2-for-3. Jackson Fricke was 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Drew Martin was 1-for-3 with a run scored.

Jared Slivka got the win for Newark. He allowed six hits and two runs in seven innings of work. He struck out three batters and walked one.

The Hilltoppers finish the 2021 season with a 21-3 record and bring some hardware back to MPHS, which suits senior Grant Davis just fine.

“It’s crazy honestly,” said Davis, celebrating with family and friends back in Mount Pulaski Thursday night. “We couldn’t come home with a dub but that’s alright. We came home with a trophy and that’s all that matters.”

Davis, the Hilltoppers first baseman who played consistent defense all season long, was standing alongside Garrett Fitzpatrick, the Hilltoppers second baseman and together the two seniors were a huge part of the Hilltoppers success in the infield. Both players improved significantly this season, with Davis making great plays at first, leaping in the air, diving either direction to catch a ball and stretching like a rubber band to field a crazy throw. Davis leaves big shoes to fill at first base. Likewise for Fitzpatrick. The second baseman from Chestnut scooped up ground balls all season long and fired to first or tossed to his shortstop covering second for the out. Fitzpatrick was consistent in the field all season long, too. The duo were also successful in the batter’s box for Mount Pulaski, with each of them coming up with key hits throughout the season. As a bonus, they are friends.

“Growing up, we played baseball together,” said Davis. “Our freshmen year we struggled but now in our senior year, we were a big part of the team. We hit really good and we fielded well and it was a lot of fun, I thought.”

“Honestly, I think it was a whole team effort,” said Fitzpatrick. “If we didn’t come together and play well in practice, I don’t think we would’ve gotten anything done. Personally, I think our families will always be together even though we are leaving.”

As the Hilltoppers celebrated uptown on the Mount Pulaski square after bringing the 4th Place state trophy home, Coach Joel Washko took a moment to offer his thoughts.

“I am just super proud of these guys,” Washko said, looking around at the crowd of gold jerseys mixed in among family and friends celebrating in front of Pizza Man. “I know today didn’t go how we would’ve loved it too, at the start of it, but that doesn’t take away the accomplishments of this group. To be the first in school history to make it to State is a big deal. They are always going to be able to come back and go in the gym and see a banner hanging there and see a trophy in the trophy case. They can tell their kids and grandkids, ’Hey, I was on the first team to do that.’ That’s a pretty special thing. This is a great day for our program and a great day for our school district and also a great day for Mount Pulaski and the surrounding communities.”

And the future of Hilltopper baseball looks really good. There will be a trio of seniors next year along with a slew of juniors and sophomores. In addition, there will be a handful of talented freshmen coming in for next year, ready to contribute to the team.

Washko is excited for the future of the program, too.

“There are a lot of layers to it,” he said. “The kids that we have now on the team, that will be back, they got some huge, invaluable experience today. Playing in State games, we didn’t throw anybody on the mound today except for a freshman and two sophomores. There’s a lot of guys that will be back. I saw a lot of kids in the stands who I bet their minds were turning because I know my mind would’ve been when I was a kid, saying, ‘hey, I want to do that now.’ We’ve had things rolling for a couple years now but this is that next step. Hopefully these groups that come after them are able to see the work that they put in to make something like this happen because this is special. Most kids don’t get a chance to be a part of something like this. We hope that this sets a bar, it’s a high bar, you know, for the type of work you have to put in if you want to have a result like this. Success breeds success.”

So very true, on and off the field.

Congratulations, Hilltoppers!!

[Teena Lowery]