MOUNT CARMEL -- Survive and advance.
That's what Mount Carmel head baseball coach Shea Smith was preaching to his team after their 10-4 IHSA Regional opener victory over Hamilton County at Dee White Field in Mount Carmel on Monday evening.
Mount Carmel took an early 2-0 lead on the Foxes after the second inning and had arguably their best pitcher on the mound, senior Logan Durham.
Durham ran into a bit of trouble in the third inning after allowing a pair of singles, followed by the two runners advancing on a wild pitch. The Foxes knocked in one run on a single and followed it up with another run, this one on an error on an Aces infielder to tie the game at 2-2 before Durham escaped.
Looking to regain the lead in the bottom half of the inning, the Aces managed to get runners on the corners for junior shortshop Aden Gill. Gill came through with an RBI double and putting Mount Carmel ahead 3-2. The two-hole hitter, sophomore Rayce Loudermilk came up next with runners on second and third and hit a high chopper that would score Gill and senior Ashton Walker. Loudermilk would later score on a wild pitch to put the Aces ahead 6-2 at the conclusion of the inning.
A Mount Carmel defensive miscue between Loudermilk and Walker allowed a popup to fall down and score two runs with two outs in the top of the fifth and bringing Hamilton County within two runs at 6-4.
In the bottom half of the inning the Aces bats made the miscue right, though. Durham led off the inning with a double, followed by an RBI double off the bat of junior Cade Newkirk. Junior Adam Stoneberger approached the plate after a Foxes pitching change and came through with an infield hit, as the Foxes attempted to make a play at the plate and couldn't convert -- followed by an errant throw down to third by the catcher, which scored another run. Walker followed that with an RBI single to push the lead to 10-4.
Durham coasted the final two innings, retiring the side in the seventh and in just four hitters in the sixth to put the finishing touches on a compete game. The senior allowed seven hits, four runs (just two earned) and had five strikeouts in his seven frames of work.
"Logan's been on it all year, it's great," Smith spoke of Durham. "I think he threw about 85 pitches. It's always nice when you can throw seven innings and keep it under 90, that's big. We know he's always going to throw strikes, he's going to put it in play, it's a matter of if we make plays and we did today."
Every Aces hitter who made an appearance recorded a hit in the game, two of which recorded two RBIs, Walker, who went 2-for-2 with two RBIs and a run and Loudermilk, who went 1-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. Durham put together an impressive 3-for-4 line with a double and a run scored as a hitter as well.
"He's an All-Conference player last year and he's starting to show it," Smith spoke of Durham and the Aces bats. "He got off to a slow start but gosh, the last month he's been the almost for sure bat, batting almost a .400 the last month. Every single guy got a hit though, Ashton came up big in the fifth and got that big hit there and help push it. That helped a lot."
Mount Carmel (9-10) now boasts an 8-4 record in Illinois play, a potentially positive prelude to what may come in postseason play.
"It helps when I was in high school playing the same kind of schedule, telling the guys how it works and everything," Smith said. "When you're right there telling them, that's a team in Illinois that's a Regional Championship team, knowing if things go the right way we can do it. Even though we had a couple bad games it didn't seem to hold them back at all."
The win advanced them to an IHSA Regional Semifinal matchup with Johnston City (20-8-1), a team Smith said he's not particularly familiar with. For the sake of comparison, the Indians did lose to Hamilton County twice this season, meaning this is a winnable game for the Aces.
"I don't know if I can tell you that we've ever played them, Trevor Clark, I know him pretty well from my North City days," Smith said. "He's a really good guy and we communicate a lot. They're a well put together team, he has the same mindset as me a little bit, they have a couple good pitchers, I'm not sure about their bats but I know they have a decent pitcher."
The game will be on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Carmi as the Aces look to extend their season for their seniors. Smith expects Newkirk to take the mound in the must win game.