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Gilbert survives battle of aces to advance to semifinals over ADM

Sean Cordy - Correspondent
Ethan Juergens slides back into first base Tuesday, July 28 against Gilbert in the state quarterfinal match-up. PHOTO BY ANDREW BROWN/DALLAS COUNTY NEWS

Two unstoppable Tigers put on a show at Principal Park, only one turned out to have a little extra in the tank to keep their season alive.

Through the first half of Tuesday’s 3A quarterfinal between three-seed Gilbert Tigers (22-3) and six-seed ADM Tigers (12-8) neither team could stop the other in a pitching duel for the books. Then finally after countless strikeouts, Gilbert was the first to crack through and went on to a 4-0 win in a preview of what’s to come next year joining ADM in the Raccoon River Conference.

“There’s been a lot of good pitching, low-scoring games here,” Gilbert head coach Jeremy Eldred said. “That’s kind of true to our nature. We grind things out and keep going.”

The tone was set between both teams’ college-bound aces who have been notoriously difficult to score on this season. Future ADM star Zach Fuller earned the nod after allowing just eight runs his senior season while Creighton commit Easton Johnson started for Gilbert. He allowed just five runs entering Tuesday, and that number wouldn’t change after his six innings and nine total strikeouts.

Hardly anyone could find their way on base against either hurler as the two combined for 13 strikeouts through three innings. It was some kind of poetry that it was Johnson that helped break through Fuller’s barrier in the bottom of the fourth inning.

“Early innings I was basically heavy-fastball,” Johnson said “Then after the second or third inning and they started to barrel it up a little bit, I started to pitch off-speed first to keep them off-balance.”

After previously grabbing a triple in the game, Johnson later got on base with a solid grounder only to be thrown out by Jaxson Millsap stealing second. With Johnson at least getting on base in the third inning, three more Tigers followed his lead and loaded the pond off a couple of walks.

With freshman Eli Eldred sliding in from third for the first run, the umpire called him safe despite ADM’s insistence of Millsap getting the force out at the plate. Gilbert now up 1-0, runs from Owen Blumhagen and Nolan Weber followed for the 3-0 lead.

ADM head coach Jason Book called that the “deciding factor of the night” as his team wasn’t able to find the proper response.

“Aside from a couple of breaks in one inning, we did really well,” ADM head coach Jason Book reacted. “We hit the ball as we expected. We didn’t quite string them together as we wanted, but tip your cap to Easton. He did a great job of keeping us off base.”

As ADM was unable to convert any of its six hits — led by Chase Anderson with two — Gilbert’s mid-game surge was enough to pull away. For good measure, once again with bases loaded in the sixth inning, Joe Drzycimski crossed home to give Gilbert some extra insurance with the 4-0 which was saved by closer Jacob Papesh with one inning pitched and one strikeout.

Walking away with the loss, Fuller pitched 4.1 innings and struck out six batters with six hits, three walks, and three runs (zero earned.) Anderson stepped in for 1.2 innings of relief duty and allowed two hits, three walks, and one earned run.

“Going back-to-back years at state is something special. I’m going to remember for a long time,” Fuller said. “All the guys this year were on a mission to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and do it again.”

Gilbert now looks to prove Tuesday was not a fluke either as the Tigers will face two-seed Dallas Center-Grimes at 10:30 a.m. Friday.