Prairie Ridge knows some things, like its improbable run to the Class 4A baseball state tournament, just defy explaining.
“The way I feel right now is we’re playing with house money,” Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said. “We’re going to keep going and see how long we can ride this wave.”
First baseman-pitcher Austin Covers said Prairie Ridge (24-16) embraces the underdog role.
“Nobody expected us to be here the way we started [2-8],” Covers said. “We didn’t even expect it, to be honest. It feels nice to be the ones not expected to be here.”
Sixteen games ago, Prairie Ridge was searching to find itself at 10-14. Yet the Wolves have crashed the final four party and will face Providence (26-14) at 3 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal at Joliet’s Silver Cross Field.
Early in the season, Pecoraro was perplexed at the Wolves losing one-run and extra-inning games. Somewhere along the way, a little past midseason, they figured things out and have since won 14 of 16 games.
“I’m thinking, ‘Geez, one more play here, one more better at-bat here. One more good swing on a pitch here and those are different results,’ ” Pecoraro said. “Through that rough patch, we kept talking about stay to the plan, stay to the process. Don’t worry about winning, worry about playing the game the right way and doing things we talked about. It’s pretty amazing.”
Pecoraro started the program when the school opened in the fall of 1997 and has coached 14 of the 17 seasons. He took off from 2007 through 2009, during which time Chuck Lowitzki coached for one season and Dave Haskins coached for two. Haskins guided the Wolves to the Class 4A state championship in 2008.
Pecoraro can reel off any number of his former teams that had more talent, although none of them made it this far.
Covers, who likely will get the start against Providence, thinks the Wolves have capitalized on the lack of outside expectations.
“We don’t have as much pressure on us going out there,” he said. “We just go out and win. The other teams who are expected to win have the pressure on them. We just have to go out there and do our thing.”
Prairie Ridge pitchers have allowed only eight runs in five postseason games, three of which were earned. Covers and Ben Cilano have been standouts as starters, although sophomore Jon Tieman rescued the Wolves with 4 1/3 scoreless relief innings in Monday’s 9-6 victory over Mundelein in the Rockford Aviators Supersectional.
The Wolves, to that point, got by without many runs and rock-solid pitching. Tim Jablonsky’s pinch-hit grand slam gave them their highest postseason run total by far Monday.
Third baseman Cal Aldridge agrees with Pecoraro’s assessment of the team staying the course.
“We all came together,” Aldridge said. “We play every game like it’s our last game, we play for each other and just want to win. Play the game the right way and have fun every day.”