Shortstop Justin Scanlon and Stephen Lund propelled the Verona Home Talent team to within one game of a return trip to the Final Four on Sunday.
Scanlon went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs and Lund was 3-for-4 with two RBIs as the Cavaliers defeated Pine Bluff-Mount Horeb 7-3 in a Western Sectional semifinal game.
Verona (14-2 regular season, 2-0 playoffs) will host rival West Middleton (11-5, 2-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Western Section championship game. The winner will advance to the round-robin Final Four. The Cavaliers have won the Home Talent title five times, with the most recent coming in 2015.
“This is what we set out to do, make it to the Western Section (finals),” Scanlon said. “We thought we would see West Middleton and that is exactly where we want to be – at our home park.
Verona split two games with West Middleton this season. The Cavaliers lost to Middleton 4-1 the second game of the season on the road and beat them 3-0 at Stampfl Field June 24.
“They have one of their pitchers back, and he has had some success against us. We will have to be locked in and come ready to play.”
The Cavaliers took a 2-1 lead in the first inning and continued to pour it on, pounding out 14 hits and getting the lead off man on four times.
“We have been swinging the ball well, and we just struck with the approach,” Scanlon said. We came through when we really needed to bear down.”
Verona broke the game open with a two-run seventh and a two-run eighth. Scanlon doubled leading off the seventh. Center fielder Derek Burgenske then ripped an RBI double down the right-field line to give the Cavaliers a 4-1 lead. Luke Yapp knocked in a run on a groundout to extend the lead to 5-2.
“We had hits when we needed them,” Verona manager David Lund said. “We pitched well, and I thought we played good defense.”
The Cavaliers also turned several dazzling defensive plays, including Burgenske’s diving catch in center field to rob Ben Jennings of a hit and a 5-4-3 double play in the eighth inning to preserve a three-run lead.
It didn’t take the Cavaliers long to answer after falling behind 1-0 in the first inning. Scanlon singled to center in the bottom of the first, and Lund delivered a game-tying RBI double to left to score Scanlon. Third baseman John Moynihan then came through with a two-out RBI single to left to give the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s usually not the way we want to start,” Scanlon said of trailing early. “But we have confidence that our pitchers — Jason (Erxleben) and Nelly (Kyle Nelson) are not going to give up a bunch of runs.”
Mount Horeb-Pine Bluff’s Pete Hefty had an RBI single in the sixth cut Verona’s lead to 3-2.
Tucker Teskey singled leading off the eighth and scored on Scanlon’s RBI double. Lund tacked on an RBI single to give the Cavaliers a commanding 7-2 lead.
Erxleben pitched six innings and gave up two runs on four hits, while striking out four and walking two.
Nelson tossed three innings in relief and surrendered just one run on two hits. He struck out two, walked one and hit one.
Pine Bluff-Mount Horeb’s Ryan Vogel went 3-for-4.
Jefferson 9, Verona 5
The Cavaliers lost to Jefferson 9-5 Aug. 10 in the first-round of the Central Section Night League playoffs.