JOLIET — Connor Schneider kept the seventh-inning rally alive. The Prairie Ridge second baseman hit a slow roller down the line that the third baseman couldn’t quite grab. As a result, he reached first on the error, loading the bases, and in the next at-bat, shortstop Nick Schmidt walked to bring in another run.
The juniors had helped the Wolves to narrow the gap to one run in Saturday’s third-place game of the Class 4A state tournament. Though they eventually lost 6-5 to South Elgin to cap a disappointing season-ending finish at Silver Cross Field, where they similarly fell by one run in the semifinals the day before, there’s perhaps a silver lining from the weekend. Along with Schneider and Schmidt, many of the same players who helped Prairie Ridge reach just its second Class 4A state tournament appearance in school history will return to the lineup next season.
In fact, the Wolves, who finished 24-18, are set to bring back five starters, along with junior right-handed starting pitcher Ben Cilano, in an attempt to produce another deep postseason run. It’s possible they were a year ahead of schedule.
“I think we have a great pitching staff coming back,” said junior catcher Dustin Thelander, who finished his second year on varsity. “We have great contributions in the middle of the order. I think we could be really good again next year.”
The hope stands that the tournament experience will serve the resilient bunch well again in 2015.
“It was huge for the future,” coach Glen Pecoraro said. “If we’re ever fortunate enough to be back in a state tournament, get to a sectional, a supersectional, I think the experience that Nick Schmidt had, Connor Schneider had and Dustin Thelander had is invaluable. Christopher Slack, our center fielder, is a junior. Our third baseman Caleb Aldridge is a junior. For these guys to have this experience, it can only help us for the next year or two.”
Pecoraro added that he thinks highly of the program’s sophomore and junior classes.
“They love the game,” he said. “They work hard at the game. And they’re good teammates to each other. They treat each other the way teammates should treat each other. When that happens, like our guys did here at the end of the season, they get a little confidence and it can happen.”
Aldridge, the third baseman, proved especially steady in the tournament. In addition to strong glove work at the corner, he hit .368 in seven postseason games — second best among starters. Thelander also hit .217 to go along with 2 RBIs.
“It was awesome; it was a fantastic experience,” Aldridge said. “It just motivates you to come back next year. That’s all we want to do, to keep playing. … We’re happy to make it here. We would have loved to win — third, second, first. But we were here. It’s incredible.”