STRUTHERS - Having a stiff wind blowing toward center field certainly helped the McDonald Blue Devils at the plate, but there was more to their offensive explosion than the elements.
The wind could have been blowing in at gale-force speeds and the hard-hitting Blue Devils would still have pierced it with one hard line drive after another. McDonald finished with 12 hits, which was enough to energize a 16-4 win over the Jackson-Milton Blue Jays in a five-inning Division IV semifinal baseball game Wednesday at Cene Park.
Second-seeded McDonald (20-4) went through four pitchers in easy fashion to advance to today's district final against the top-seeded Springfield Tigers. The Blue Devils sent 16 batters to the plate in an 11-run fourth inning to blow the game open.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
McDonald’s Christian Rusinowski (30) lets out a holler after he and teammates Mike Schuller, left, and Mike Raschilla, right, are driven in by Cameron Ifft’s triple during the fourth inning of their game against Jackson-Milton. McDonald won, 16-4.
"It's been a couple of games now that we've been able to carry strong bats," Blue Devils coach Matt Vukovic said. "It's made it easier for us."
Center fielder Cameron Ifft had the biggest hit in the bottom of the fourth, driving a bases-loaded triple to the fence in right-center to push the lead to 15-4. Tom Rebraca followed with a single to score Ifft with the final run.
Blue Devils relief pitcher Christian Rusinowski allowed runners to reach second and third in the top of the fifth inning, but he retired Matt Johns on a grounder to first and struck out Randy Vesey to end the game.
Ifft, a cleanup hitter with a batting average of close to .500, had two hits and drove in four runs. Rebraca drove in three runs on a pair of hits. Ben Carkido had two RBIs, and Rusinowski had three hits and two RBIs.
"Our bats are hot right now," Ifft said. "We hit well from the top of the order to the bottom. That was the difference."
Ifft came up in the fourth after Mike Raschilla received what looked like an unintentional intentional walk with the bases loaded. It was a great opportunity to deliver a hit that would give the Blue Devils a chance at winning by the 10-run rule.
"My coach said I had to sit back and drive it," Ifft said. "I was thinking about a gap shot."
The Blue Jays (17-11) opened the scoring in the top of the first inning when Adam Jeffries scored on a single by Nick Wolosheck. The Blue Devils countered in the bottom of the first with a two-run triple by Rebraca.
McDonald added three runs in the second on one-run singles by Rusinowski and Ifft to go along with a run-producing double by Mike Schuller.
Schuller, the starting and winning pitcher, battled a wild streak in the third inning, walking in one of three runs. Jeremy Fitzpatrick doubled in one of the runs.
McDonald's fourth-inning uprising was aided by three errors.
Raschilla will get the starting assignment on the mound for today's 6 p.m. start at Cene. Springfield was a winner over McDonald in a regular-season game.
"We played them on a Saturday three or four weeks ago," Vukovic said. "We played flat the whole game. We weren't into it. We never got anything going. They don't have the same attitude now. I hope we play them the way we've played everybody else lately."