ROCKFORD – Roads to any state tournament often require triumphs of different shapes and sizes.
Prairie Ridge’s formula of unyielding starting pitching and opportunistic offense was not enough against Mundelein. The Wolves needed a couple of unlikely heroes to pull off their biggest win of the season and Tim Jablonsky and Jon Tieman were thrilled to oblige.
Jablonsky, a senior with 17 varsity at-bats all season, crushed a pinch-hit grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning. Tieman, a sophomore right-hander without a postseason inning pitched, threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief and the Wolves upended Mundelein, 9-6, Monday in the Class 4A Rockford Aviators Supersectional at Aviators Stadium.
Prairie Ridge (24-16) takes on Providence at 3 p.m. Friday at Joliet’s Silver Cross Field in a Class 4A semifinal.
“This is unbelievable,” said Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro, who could not stop smiling. “Timmy Jablonsky’s worked his tail off and come up in some big moments and had good at-bats, but by no means did I think he was going to hit a grand slam in that situation.”
Wolves shortstop Nick Schmidt ran into left fielder Kyle Buresch on a fly ball in the top of the fifth inning. Buresch caught the ball, but Schmidt’s head hit Buresch’s elbow and stunned him for a couple minutes. Schmidt told assistant coach Andy Deain, as the inning progressed, to pinch hit for him.
The Wolves scored twice and had the bases loaded when Jablonsky, who had three RBIs before the game, was called to hit for Schmidt. On an 0-1 offering from Austin Blackmer, Jablonsky lifted a deep fly over the left-field wall about 15 feet inside the foul pole.
“It was a curveball that hung a little bit and I was able to get the [bat] head out,” Jablonsky said. “I couldn’t believe it. I think the look on my face said it all. I was so happy. This team, we’ve been through so much, to be able to have the opportunity to do what we did today … unbelievable.”
Jablonsky’s only varsity homer made it 9-6 and left Prairie Ridge six outs from its first trip to Joliet since it won the Class 4A state championship in 2008.
Tieman entered the game in the third for starter Ben Cilano, who had thrown 68 pitches, but had struggled with control, walking four. Prairie Ridge trailed, 5-3, at the time.
Tieman (3-1) allowed one RBI hit, then retired nine consecutive batters before the Mustangs (36-3) got another hit.
“Jonny Tieman came in and absolutely shut the door,” Jablonsky said. “That’s a sophomore doing things you couldn’t expect a senior to do. He did amazing things on the bump.”
Tieman, who did not walk or strike out a batter, threw five pitches in a perfect seventh inning.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and make them make contact and put the ball in play,” Tieman said. “I knew my defense was playing well. I just kept the ball low in the zone and hit Dusty’s [Thelander] mitt.”
Tieman retired No. 2 hitter Derek Parola on a ground out to Schmidt, who re-entered for defense, to lead off the seventh. He then got Logan Reckert on a fly ball to right field. Then, as Prairie Ridge’s fans stood in anticipation, he got Luke Adams on a fly to left field.
Buresch squeezed the ball and sprinted to the dogpile on the infield.
“We’ve come a long way from being 2-8 to get to the final four,” said Buresch, who had two hits and two RBIs. “There’s so much resiliency on our team. We were down by three and we came back. It’s just a great feeling.”
On the other side, Mundelein had to deal with huge disappointment after setting a school record for victories.
“We didn’t really have quality at-bats when the second kid [Tieman] came in,” Mustangs coach Todd Parola said. “And we didn’t pitch it very well today. Nine runs on five hits is tough to swallow. We weren’t real good in all phases. We didn’t deserve to win, they deserved to win today.”