McHENRY – Perhaps Austin Covers was being slightly overcritical in his self-assessment.
The Prairie Ridge senior left-hander felt he could have been sharper and located his pitches better, although that seemed like nitpicking after Covers’ performance against Jacobs that included 14 groundball outs.
Covers allowed three hits, two that did not leave the infield, and consistently induced groundball outs as the Wolves defeated Jacobs, 4-1, to win the Class 4A McHenry Sectional baseball tournament at Petersen Park.
It is Prairie Ridge’s first sectional championship since 2008 and the first ever for coach Glen Pecoraro, who has coached the Wolves for 13 of their 16 seasons.
“I was able to make good pitches,” said Covers, who struck out two and walked three. “I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff, but the defense really came up big. I was a little frustrated giving up the first run on that walk that came around to score, but I knew our offense was going go put some big innings together.”
Prairie Ridge (23-16) has won 13 of its last 15 games and faces Mundelein (35-2) at 6 p.m. Monday at the Rockford Aviators Supersectional at Aviators Stadium.
“Finally! Finally!” said a beaming Pecoraro, who was coaching in a sectional for the 10th time. “All these years, all those times we’re in a sectional championship, to win with this group … unbelievable. It feels great. It feels great because we weren’t expected to do much.”
Covers (4-0) was told definitively Saturday morning by pitching coach Andy Deain he would start. Deain had Covers, closer Jack Myers and sophomore Jon Tieman all prepared to face Jacobs (25-14).
Covers threw in the Grayslake North Regional title game, a 1-0 victory over Grant in nine innings. He has allowed four hits in 14 postseason innings.
“I had a feeling, but we were all ready to go,” Covers said. “I was pumped to be the one to start this game.”
Jacobs scored in the first, but the Wolves answered right back with a two-out, three-run rally in the second. Catcher Dustin Thelander hit a hard ground ball to right field for an RBI, then when the throw eluded catcher Daniel Tenayuca, Chris Slack also scored from third base.
“I was just looking for a pitch I could drive,” Thelander said. “Just looking for a hole. Put the ball in play and good things happen.”
Marcus Sargeant ripped a double down the left-field line for another RBI. Prairie Ridge added a run in the third on Cal Aldridge’s RBI single.
That was ample room for Covers, who evaded trouble after working out of a situation in the third with runners on second and third and one out.
“[Covers] battled through it,” Thelander said. “He got ground balls, got out of tight spots and that’s all we can ask him to do. Our defense picked it up behind him.”
The Wolves did not commit an error and 14 of the outs Covers got came on ground balls. The Golden Eagles hit only three balls out of the infield on Covers.
Covers threw 91 pitches and was pulled after the sixth, trading places with right fielder Jack Myers in the seventh. Myers threw a perfect seventh for the save.
“I was hoping Austin was going all seven,” Myers said. “It was fun to come in and pitch in that situation. It was fun to celebrate after that last pitch.”
Jacobs, which had not won a regional before last season, was trying to win back-to-back sectional titles.
“We had too many walks and hit batters early in the game,” Eagles coach Jamie Murray said. “There’s nothing to hang their heads about, we did a great job to get back to the sectional championship. We’re not happy about losing, but if you’re going to lose to a guy, Glen’s done a fantastic job. I couldn’t be happier for him, he does things the right way.”