Bruns finishes what he starts, guiding Chargers to regional semifinal victory in eight innings


Illini West's Nick Bruns drove in two insurance runs in the top of the eighth inning Thursday and then finished off a complete-game pitching effort in the Chargers' 4-1 victory over Eureka in the Class 2A Illini West Regional in Carthage, Ill. | Matt Schuckman photo

CARTHAGE, Ill. — Illini West baseball coach Zack Burling told left-handed starter Nick Bruns he was only going to face Eureka’s leadoff hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning Thursday before the Chargers went to the bullpen.

“I just begged him to let me try to finish this game,” Bruns said. “And he did. Huge thanks to him for that.”

Bruns made it an easy decision.

Sitting at 100 pitches when the inning began, Bruns needed just six pitches to retire the third-seeded Hornets, getting back-to-back groundouts to the left side of the infield to end a 4-1 victory in the semifinals of the Class 2A Illini West Regional at Jake Burling Field.

“It felt like we were up big, even though we were only up three at that point,” Bruns said. “It just felt like we had all of the momentum and we rode it until the end.”

Bruns limited Eureka to seven hits and one walk, while striking out nine in his 106-pitch, complete-game effort. He held the Hornets scoreless the first six innings, didn’t allow an extra-base hit and threw 73 pitches for strikes.

“I loved the curveball today,” Bruns said. “I could locate it for a strike, for a swing-and-miss. The changeup, the fastball, everything was working.”

He helped himself when he could, too.

After each team scored a single run in the seventh inning, the Chargers (26-4) erupted for three runs in the eighth inning. Colby Robertson led off with a single, and one out later, Shawn Watkins Jr. was hit by a pitch. Ethan Carlisle dropped down a sacrifice bunt that turned into a fielder’s choice and resulted in an error that allowed Robertson to score.

Shawn Sparks reached on an error to load the bases, bringing Bruns to the plate. He had walked twice and been hit by a pitch in three previous at-bats, seeing a curveball on the first pitch from Tanner Wiegand each time.

“Before the at-bat, my coach came up to me and said, ‘Watch that curveball. Watch that pop out of his hand and it will be right down the middle,’” Bruns said. “That exact thing happened, and I just put it into the left-center gap.”

His double plated two runs and gave himself a cushion he didn’t need.

Having allowed the tying run in the bottom of the seventh inning, Bruns wanted to make amends.

“As a person and an athlete, I really like those situations,” Bruns said. “It really puts pressure on myself, and I feel like I handle pressure really well and love it. It made me go out and get us back in here, because I knew we could get the bats going.”

Scoreless through six innings, the Chargers took the lead in the top of the seventh when Bruns drew a one-out walk and courtesy runner Stonger scored one out later on Nick Johnson’s triple to right field.

“That one run really changed our mindset that we had this game,” Bruns said.

Eureka did go quietly. Three consecutive two-out singles allowed Colby Blunier, who started the rally with an infield hit, to score the tying run.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” Bruns said. “But we knew we weren’t down and out. We knew we could come right back and hit.”

Now, the Chargers hope the momentum carries over to Saturday’s regional championship. Illini West will face ninth-seeded Macomb at 11 a.m. at Jake Burling Field.

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