JOLIET – Prairie Ridge embraced tense spots as if they were a longtime friend.
The Wolves had been in so many one-run or extra-inning games that coach Glen Pecoraro felt his players were “comfortable in those uncomfortable situations.”
So when facing a five-run deficit against South Elgin with six outs remaining, Prairie Ridge hardly blinked.
The Wolves scored twice in the sixth, then added two more in the seventh, but fell one run short for the second consecutive day. The Storm held on for a 6-5 victory in the Class 4A baseball state tournament third-place game, ending the game with Wolves on every base.
“We were having fun playing the game,” Prairie Ridge catcher Dustin Thelander said. “We’d been in so many close games that, when we got in the playoffs, it was just kind of another day at the office. We were having fun.”
Not as much fun as they would have liked. On Friday, the Wolves (24-18) allowed Providence six runs in the bottom of the sixth, then rallied for five in the top of the seventh of an 8-7 loss. Another valiant comeback was not quite enough.
“I’m disappointed obviously,” Pecoraro said. “I’m mad at myself for being a little aggressive on the bases that cost us a couple runs. Our boys fought again, had a chance to win it at the end, same as yesterday. These guys battled to the last out. I couldn’t ask for more out of our offense.”
South Elgin (25-11-1) got a boost from center fielder Nick Menken in the fifth when he threw out Nick Schmidt at home plate trying to score on Marcus Sargeant’s single. Pecoraro thought he made the proper call to send Schmidt.
“I thought he was safe,” he said. “I’m going to send him 10 out of 10 times on that. The kid [Menken] made a heck of a throw, it was a bang-bang play at the plate.”
The Wolves heated up in the sixth. Austin Covers singled, Jack Myers was hit by a pitch and Kyle Buresch singled in Covers. Two batters later, Tim Jablonsky one-hopped the left-field fence for an RBI double, reaching base for the fourth straight time as a postseason pinch hitter.
Sargeant and Covers singled to lead off the seventh. Storm shortstop Dane Toppel stumbled on Buresch’s ground ball and Covers headed for third. The grounder scored pinch runner Luke Annen, but Covers was caught off third. Pecoraro said he started to wave Covers home because he though the ball had rolled far enough away from Toppel.
Still, the Wolves were not finished. Connor Schneider reached on an error and Schmidt walked with the bases loaded, making it 6-5. Leadoff man Chris Slack then grounded back to pitcher Austin Sayre for the final out.
The Wolves won 14 of their last 18 games, and the two state games gave them 13 games decided by one run this season.
Prairie Ridge won the 2008 Class 4A state title and the fourth-place trophy is its second in school history for baseball.
“We came together great at the end of the year as a team,” Myers said. “We really clicked. It was kind of nice.”
Pecoraro said the last three weeks are still a whirlwind for the team that finished third in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division and really found itself in May.
“That resiliency we’ve showed the last half of the season, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Pecoraro said.