WOODSTOCK — Cherokee coach Josh Thomas and Woodstock his counterpart, Jeff Brown, agreed. Thursday’s game felt like playoff baseball.
Solid pitching from Cherokee’s Max Eichenberger and Woodstock’s Garrett Goblish headlined most of the evening until some late-game magic from the Wolverines’ offense.
With the game tied 2-all in the bottom of the sixth inning, Christian Preiser hit a two-run triple to help Woodstock top Cherokee 4-2 and move into first place in the Region 5AAAAAAA standings.
“(We) just really felt like this was going to be one of the pivotal moments in the season,” Brown said. “It was just a great game — good to see us back playing Woodstock baseball. That was really exciting.”
The Wolverines (18-5, 10-2) struck first on a double down the left-field line from senior outfielder Andrew Ianitello, who scored after Preston Gunnell singled.
From there, Eichenberger dug in. He pitched four scoreless innings and finished the game striking out three.
“He’s done it all year for us,” Thomas said of Eichenberger. “Max is our dude. He’s our ace. He did what he’s done all season long, mixes his pitches, comes in there and attacks you. (In the end), a couple bad breaks, but that’s baseball.”
A sacrifice fly from Woodstock’s Kameron Douglas tied the game at 2-all before Preiser’s triple, which slipped past the Cherokee defense and gave the Wolverines the lead.
On the other side, Brown liked how Goblish was able to bounce back after Cherokee (17-8, 9-3) took advantage of two errors and a wild pitch to earn runs.
In the top of the seventh, Goblish retired the side with a fly out and two strikeouts. He finished the complete game allowing five hits and striking out six.
“He did a really good job locking it back in and closing it out, especially those last three innings,” Brown said.
Cherokee had not made the state playoffs in 13 years and this is the year the Warriors will break that streak, Thomas said.
That’s what made Thursday’s game all the more important, despite the result.
“We’ve got all the talent we could ever dream of,” Thomas said, “but what this program has missed in a long time has been some experience. … In those moments, it’s about being level, getting back and playing ball. I couldn’t be more ecstatic. The experience and the growth that I think will come from it is huge.”
Similarly, Brown said the win was important for Woodstock going forward because he expects the same experience in the playoffs.
Each team will throw their best pitcher, and winning close games will be the norm.
“To be able to come out here, score in the bottom of the sixth and be able to close it out, that’s definitely playoff-type baseball,” Brown said. “Hopefully, we can continue playing this type of baseball for sure.”