BEARDSTOWN, Ill. -- Griffin Kirn's only job when he came in to pitch in Saturday's Class 2A Beardstown Regional championship game was to throw strikes.
It proved to be a problem for starter Tommy Ray, but Kirn's calm on the mound settled his Quincy Notre Dame teammates' nerves.
Kirn came in after Ray walked four batters, hit one and helped stake Auburn to a 6-0 lead in the first inning. Kirn walked the first batter he faced, then threw 41/3 scoreless innings of relief in a 9-6 victory at Ed Lewis Field.
"I was just throwing strikes," Kirn said. "I kept the ball low."
The sophomore lefty struck out six and threw 52 strikes out of his 81 pitches.
Kirn had his biggest moment of the season as a freshman at Ed Lewis Field as well, getting the last four outs in a wild 13-12 victory over Pleasant Plains in the sectional title game.
"He was just huge," Raiders coach Ryan Oden said. "He grew up on this field last year, and he grew up again here this year. That's the type of game that propels your career."
Kirn had thrown just 19 innings this season, mostly in relief because of deep and talented pitching staff.
"Griffin and I had a discussion earlier this year, and he was wondering when he would get some starts," Oden said. "I told him I liked him coming out of the bullpen for situations like this here."
Kirn got ready quickly and was summoned in an emergency.
"You want Tommy to do good, but I want to pitch, too," he said. "I really had nothing to lose. I knew we were going to hit."
Auburn coach Tom Meyers thought Kirn's stint on the mound turned the tide.
"Everything kind of snowballed in the first inning, and the morale was great," he said. "After that, Notre Dame settled in, and we didn't have much of a threat after that. The lefty was fantastic. The kids said the ball was tailing away a little bit, and all we could get was some weak contact off him."
Kirn's earned run average this season is now 2.00, and he has 32 strikeouts in 23 innings.
Senior Malachi Lentz threw two innings of scoreless relief to earn the save.
"For us to throw up a zero in the last six innings, that was just huge," Oden said.
Count Meyers among those impressed with the Raiders' chances to make a long postseason run.
"QND is potentially the state champs," he said. "I know I'm going to root for them. If we got beat, I want to say we got beat by the state champs. Boy, are they fantastic swingers. That's a quality club."