Three weeks of trying to recover from a hip injury was the furthest thing in the mind of Joliet Catholic Academy’s Zach Melone when the senior second baseman stepped up to the plate Saturday.
Little things sure mean a lot.
“A bunt can change a game,” Melone said. “It’s something so simple, but it can lead to a run. You have an error on the throw and I’m at second right way — and good, we’re starting off the game great.”
JCA coach Jared Voss used the same adjective — great — in describing the return of Melone. In his first game back, Melone went 3-for-3 with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs as the Hillmen bounced Bremen 12-0.
The 5-inning victory in the Class 3A JCA Regional, which would be clinched by an 8-run fourth inning, advanced the Hilltoppers (29-7-1) to Wednesday afternoon’s Lincoln-Way West Sectional semifinals.
On a sun-swept morning, the only run JCA actually needed came in the bottom of the first after junior first baseman Ryan Peter led off with an nfield single and Melone beat out a beaut of a drag bunt down the third-base line. A wild throw put Peter across home plate for the 1-0 lead and Melone later scored.
"It’s nice to start early with a couple of runs, especially after a sluggish hitting day (against Chicago Kennedy in a 5-0 first-round win),” said Voss, whose Hilltoppers won their fifth consecutive regional title and 21st in the baseball program’s illustrious history. “And it was great to have Zach
back in the lineup.”
Up and down the lineup, JCA produced in bringing on the mercy with 12 hits. Melone, Central Michigan-bound senior third baseman Adam Collins (2-for-3, 2 runs, RBI), junior outfielder Brock Pluth (1-for-1, walk, sac) and junior catcher Alex Voitik (1-for-1, 2 walks, 2 RBIs) each contributed doubles.
“We needed to get it going and we were able to string our hits together as a team,” Collins said. “It’s one game at a time now. I had to fix my approach at the plate and just hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Everybody did. Peter singled, walked and scored twice, senior pitcher Nate Searing singled, sacrificed, scored and had 2 RBIs and freshman outfielder Nick Dalesandro finished 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs and a run. Senior DH Adrian Nunez added a single and a run and junior shortstop Chris Tschida walked and scored.
Holding a 2-0 lead, Nunez began the second with a single to left-center and Collins lined a single through short. Peter’s RBI grounder pushed it to 3-0 and Melone’s RBI infield hit built a sittin’-pretty 4-0 edge.
“We jumped on them early and it’s something we don’t do enough,” Melone said. “That makes us even more comfortable in the field. One person gets a hit, everyone starts rolling. It’s what you want to see.”
Quite a sight was an 8-run fourth featuring Melone’s RBI double, Voitik’s 2-RBI double, Dalesandro’s sharp 2-RBI single and Collins’ RBI double. Searing (5-1) cruised, striking out 4 and scattering 3 hits.
“It’s great to get Nate out there on the mound too because it had been awhile,” Voss said. “He’s ready.”
As was Melone, whose execution of a possible sacrifice became a bunt single to ignite the barrage.
Yep, he’s back.
“I don’t have a lot of speed, but I can put it down in a good spot,” Melone said. “Their third baseman was playing way back. We tried it once and didn’t get it, but he stayed back and I got a good spot.”
NOTES: Also scoring runs for JCA were junior Ben Figura and sophomore Rylan Bannon … Bremen ended the season with a 17-18 record … Both teams turned double plays, with JCA going from Tschida to Melone to Peter in the top of the third. It eliminated the Braves’ biggest threat, with Searing notching a strikeout to end the inning … Bremen left 5 runners on base to JCA’s 4 … Searing threw 42-of-70 pitches for strikes and was 10-of-21 on first-pitch strikes. He also totaled 10 groundouts … Voss indicated that Illinois-bound lefty ace pitcher Kevin Duchene could return from illness as soon as Wednesday’s sectional semifinals … Fans continued to rave about spruced-up Gillespie Field, particularly the new brick backstop … About the 21st regional title in the school’s baseball history, Voss said “we’re pretty fortunate. You look at the players we get and they do all of the hard work. They deserve the credit.”