Jarrett Heilman leads Freeport baseball past Burrell in important section game

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 8:03 PM

Jarrett Heilman didn’t require much offensive support, but his Freeport teammates gave him plenty — and made sure to do it early.

No. 4 Freeport staked Heilman to a three-run lead, and the Yellowjackets ace responded with his latest gem, pitching them to a 6-3 victory over No. 5 Burrell in a Section 1-3A game at Burrell’s Huston Middle School.

Heilman pitched 623 innings, allowing two runs on six hits, walking none and striking out 12. He exited after reaching the 100-pitch maximum, ending with a strikeout of Burrell’s Seth Fischbach.

“I love playing in those games, pitching in the big-time games,” said Heilman, who moved to 4-1 on the season. “I live for those. Coach (Ed) Carr trusts me — I hope he trusts me — and as long as I have my trust in my coaches and my defense, I think we can win.”

Freeport (8-5, 5-2) finished off a two-game sweep of Burrell and moved into a second-place tie in the section with Steel Valley (6-6, 5-2), the Yellowjackets’ opponent Thursday. Burrell (7-3, 4-3) dropped to fourth place.

“Everybody’s bunched up,” Carr said. “We lost a close one last week to (first-place) Deer Lakes, so we’re chasing them and we know there’s four teams bunched together. Every win is huge right now.”

Heilman is giving Freeport a pretty strong chance to win every time out. The junior right-hander has 60 strikeouts in 35 innings with just two walks and a sub-1.00 ERA.

On Wednesday, he used his fastball to set up his breaking pitches — a curveball and a newly added slider — getting 10 swinging strikeouts.

“He kept us off balance,” Burrell coach Mark Spohn said. “He hits his spots really well. Both times against us, it’s basically the same scenario.”

Just as in the first game between the teams, a 4-3 Freeport win, the Yellowjackets took an early lead.

Austin Kepes led off the game against Burrell starter Tanner Spohn with a single. Matt Grove followed with a double, and both runners scored on Zachary Allen’s double.

Burrell cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning on Luke Virag’s RBI single, but a Grove sacrifice fly and Allen RBI double made it 4-1 in the second.

A Burrell fielding miscue helped contribute in the second inning, but the Bucs also got some big plays from their outfielders to keep the deficit what it was. Right fielder Zach Miller threw Allen out at the plate in the first inning, and center fielder Seth Fischbach made two sparkling catches in the second.

“We kind of opened the gate a little bit to give them a couple extra runs in the second inning,” Spohn said. “If it stays a 2-1 game into the sixth, you never know. The pressure’s on them. When you play good teams, it usually comes down to a couple plays.”

As it was, the three-run lead was plenty for Heilman.

“Whenever I pitch with a lead, it always allows me to attack the players, attack the batters coming up,” Heilman said. “It’s always nice to be aggressive with the fastball early and with the fastball, adjust to the offspeed.”

Matt Mitchell’s two-run single gave Freeport some insurance runs in the sixth.

“We haven’t been fast starters this year, and that was something we really wanted to do today,” Carr said. “Burrell’s a good hitting team. I knew they’d be confident seeing (Heilman) a second time. Getting two in the first inning was big. They came back with one, and I think limiting them in the first inning was just as big as anything else.”

A two-out, two-run double by Miller off Mitchell allowed Burrell to cut its deficit to three in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Mitchell ended the game with a strikeout.

Freeport lost to Steel Valley, 10-4, earlier this season but is looking forward to Thursday’s rematch.

“It’s time for redemption,” Heilman said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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