Downers Grove South's Dan Oriente tags out Neuqua's Jake Dupre at home plate during the Regional quarterfinals in Naperville on Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2014. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Joey Engel batted near the bottom of the lineup this spring. This summer, the Downers Grove South senior has solidified his role as Mustangs leadoff man.
Engel reached base three times and scored three runs to jump-start the Mustangs to a 5-3 victory over Neuqua Valley in Tuesday’s Hinsdale South Regional quarterfinal of the Phil Lawler Classic.
“I think he’s our best all-around player,” Downers South coach Darren Orel said. “He can run and can bunt. I feel like this is probably the spot he’ll be in.”
Engel is relishing his new role.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “Our No. 2 and No. 3 hitters are really good at getting me over and in, so I like to get the game started and get us going by getting on base.”
A game-opening triple to right field by Engel got the Mustangs started. He scored on a groundout from Danny Oriente.
Engel made it 2-0 in the top of the third inning. He clubbed a one-out double, advanced to third on an error and then came home when a teammate was thrown out attempting to steal second base.
Neuqua Valley starting pitcher Tyler Bromer hit three Mustangs in the top of the fifth inning. An errant throw from catcher Matt Gould on a sacrifice bunt also didn’t help matters as the Wildcats suddenly were behind 5-0.
“His arm was bothering him a lot in that last inning,” Wildcats coach Robin Renner said. “He competed the best he could and it was just a matter of waiting for our guys in the bullpen to get ready.”
The Wildcats finally got to Downers Grove South pitcher Ryan Taylor in the fifth, taking advantage of a pair of errors and a single from Tyler Tesmond (3-for-4) to cut their deficit to 5-2.
Taylor struck out seven and didn’t allow any walks in five innings to get the win.
“He hadn’t pitched in like two weeks and he went 77 pitches, which is a lot when you haven’t throw in a while,” Orel said. “He knows how to pitch and gets good movement.”
Neuqua Valley put a little scare in the Mustangs in the bottom of the seventh. Nick Hilgemann led off with a triple and then came home on Tesmond’s double to make it 5-3, but couldn’t get any closer.
The Wildcats banged out 12 hits, but were just 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 11.
“When you’re part of a team as a coach or a player sometimes you’re partial to things that happen in favor of your team,” Renner said. “I’m not sure if we didn’t outplay them. We hit the ball hard. I thought we competed well most of the game.”