Max Strickland didn’t need to wait.
He saw what he liked.
With the La Salle-Peru baseball team trailing by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning in Monday’s Class 3A Ottawa Regional quarterfinal against Pontiac, the Cavaliers’ junior catcher swung at the first pitch he saw and rifled a fastball past a drawn in Pontiac infield and into left-field for a go-ahead two-run single.
The RBI hit gave L-P the lead for good as the Cavs survived and beat Pontiac 4-3 at Veterans Park in Peru.
“It definitely felt good,” Strickland said. “He put it right down the middle so I just shot it to the left side. My dad always told me, ‘If it’s right there, just yank it’ so that’s what I did.”
The go-ahead hit helped the No. 3-seeded Cavs avoid the quarterfinal upset and advanced L-P (21-6) into the regional semifinals, where it will face rival and No. 2-seeded Ottawa at 6 p.m. Thursday at Ottawa.
It will be the fourth meeting between the teams this season. The Pirates won the first two games, while L-P won the third meeting last Wednesday in a meaningless contest after Ottawa clinched the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division title earlier in the week.
“They are a great ball club,” first-year L-P coach Matt Glupczynski said. “We’re going to have two days of practice to see how we’re going to approach them, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s always fun when we play them.”
Getting to Thursday, however, was anything but easy for the Cavs.
With L-P nursing a one-run lead for m the first few innings, Pontiac took the lead in the top of the fifth as back-to-back-to-back doubles off L-P pitcher Kyle Jenkins gave the Indians (11-17-1) a 3-1 advantage.
However, L-P was far from finished.
The Cavs pulled to within a run in the bottom of the fifth after Adam Happ’s second RBI single of the game.
After Jenkins (9-1) pitched a perfect sixth, L-P got right to business.
No. 6 hitter and left fielder Andres Martinez reached on a fielder’s choice, and first baseman and No. 7 hitter Kyle Rothrock doubled to put runners at second and third with one out.
Against the drawn in infield, the No. 8 hitter Strickland hit the go-ahead single.
In all, L-P’s Nos. 5-9 hitters — which also included Jenkins in the No. 5 spot and right fielder Nate Burris in the No. 9 position — had eight of the Cavs’ 11 hits. The five went combined 8-for-15 with six singles, two RBI and two runs scored while also starting run-scoring rallies in both the fifth and sixth innings.
“The bottom of the order has been working extremely hard from the first day of the cage until today,” Glupczynski said. “They’ve taken a lot of pride in getting after it, and you can tell by their swings they are getting more and more confident and squaring up the ball.”
Jenkins pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to close out the L-P victory.
The senior ace picked up the complete-game win as he allowed three earned runs and struck out seven. After he allowed the three-straight run-scoring doubles in the fifth, he retired the last seven batters he faced.
Notes: Monday’s game was the last L-P home baseball game that legendary WLPO-AM 1220 announcer Lanny Slevin will broadcast. He is retiring June 14. … While L-P will play Ottawa in Thursday’s regional semifinal, top-seeded Morris will meet No. 5-seeded Coal City at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first semifinal. The Coalers beat No. 4-seeded Streator 12-2 in five innings on Monday.
Jared Bell be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.