NAPERVILLE – After losing to Joliet Catholic in walk-off fashion in extra innings Moday at Benedictine University, Prairie Ridge baseball coach Glen Pecoraro and his team could feel that the team’s mood was down collectively.
“You could just feel the bad energy,” Pecoraro said. “I just challenge their character and their toughness. We talk about grinding out at-bats. As hitters, I think when we’re down, we tend to relax at batters. Sometimes when we’re down, we tend to do better offensively because we relax.”
On Tuesday, Prairie Ridge’s offense was flowing. The Wolves, who avoided elimination Monday with a win over Downers Grove South, had a five-run third inning in an 8-2 victory against Crystal Lake South in the losers bracket to advance to the semifinals of the Phil Lawler Summer Classic at North Central College.
The Wolves (20-4) finished with nine hits and eight runs.
The Gators lost to Joliet Catholic, 9-0, earlier in the day to be sent to the losers bracket.
“We talk about a crooked number and creating big innings,” Pecoraro said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to the boys over the years, but 75 percent of baseball games are won in one inning. We had one big inning and that was the difference.”
In the third inning, the Wolves’ offensive barrage began when leadoff hitter James Mikolajczewski drew a walk, advancing Christopher Stack to second. Hunter Martin then hit an RBI single to bring home Stack, tying the score at 2. The next batter, senior Connor Schneider, hit a single to give the Wolves a 3-2 lead. Right fielder Benjamin Cilano tacked on two more with an RBI double, giving the Wolves a 5-2 lead.
Cilano, who pitched seven innings against Joliet Catholic, had a strong day, going 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
“I pride myself on being a two-way player,” Cilano said. “These guys always call me a pitcher only, but I like to prove them wrong. I try to take out some of my aggressiveness on the plate and take care of business.”
Prairie Ridge starting pitcher Alec Walters followed up his team’s offensive barrage with a shutdown fourth inning. Walters got two batters out on first pitches and had an eight-pitch inning. Walters pitched six innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He also walked three and struck out three.
“It just boosts [my confidence] so much when you have two pitches and two outs," Walters said. "When they just keep just hitting at the first pitch, it keeps pumping me up. It really pumped up our coaches too because an eight-pitch inning is beautiful.”
Crystal Lake South (19-7-3) couldn’t hold on after taking a 2-1 lead in the top of the third. The Gators temporarily took that lead when Michael Avella drove in two runners with an RBI single.
“They answered back real nice. [The bottom of the third] was just a rough inning,” Crystal Lake South coach Brian Bogda said. “Still, I’m proud of our efforts throughout the summer. We made a lot of changes in the summer and they responded well. I told them I’m looking forward to working with them and seeing how they improve.”
Prairie Ridge added two more runs in the fifth and six innings. Nick Schmidt had an RBI double in the fifth and Jacob Carpentier drove in the final run in the sixth.
In the first game of the day, Joliet Catholic hammered Crystal Lake South, 9-0. The Gators had five errors and Joliet Catholic took advantage.
Crystal Lake South’s offense struggled, only getting three hits. The Gators couldn’t capitalize in the fourth inning when they had the bases loaded and failed to earn a run.
Joliet Catholic pitcher Dan Ersham had a dominant outing, striking out seven and walking only two in seven innings.
“We tried to attack early in the count, and it’s a credit to their pitcher getting ahead early,” Bogda said. “They put the pressure on us and they were on the bases early. They were coached very well.”
Prairie Ridge moves on to play Nazareth Academy at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Benedictine University. It’s been another successful run for the Wolves, who made the state semifinals in the spring.
“What we did in the spring, I thought we were ahead of schedule,” Pecoraro said. “We definitely didn’t expect it. We had some seniors and some guys who filled roles beautifully.
“This is the group that we felt like we can make a run with,” he said.