JOLIET – Perhaps Prairie Ridge’s seventh-inning rally should not have been shocking.
After all, the Wolves were 10-14 at one point before putting together a torrid streak that landed them in the semifinals of the Class 4A Baseball State Tournament.
They also advanced to Joliet’s Silver Cross Field on a pinch-hit grand slam.
Still, overcoming a six-run deficit in one at-bat, after notching one hit in the first six innings, seemed too much, even for such experts of the improbable.
Prairie Ridge scraped and fought. The Wolves sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh and cut Providence’s lead to one run before Kyle Buresch’s sharp groundball to shortstop was turned into a double play.
The Celtics leaped up and down in celebration – and relief – with an 8-7 victory Friday that sends them into Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. championship game against the winner of the second semifinal between Chicago St. Rita (36-4) and South Elgin (24-10-1). Prairie Ridge (24-17) will play loser of that game for third place at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Buresch, frustrated by being out on a bang-bang play at first, fired his batting helmet to the ground and crouched down in disbelief that it was over. Austin Covers, the tying run, stood helpless 90 feet from home plate.
The Wolves (24-17) nearly pulled it off after allowing the Celtics (27-14) six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I said in the huddle before the top of the seventh, ‘Hey, look, win or lose, let’s go out fighting,’ ” Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said. “That’s all you want, a chance to win at the end. We’re one hit away from tying the game. I was proud of how they fought.”
Providence had four consecutive RBI hits in the sixth before a ground out for the second out. After that, starter Dylan Rosa added a two-RBI single that ultimately was the difference.
Cal Aldridge started off the top of the seventh for the Wolves with a sharp single, then pinch hitters Tim Jablonsky and Carson Getzelman reached on an error and hit batsman. Leadoff man Chris Slack drew a walk and Dustin Thelander sent in a run with a sacrifice fly.
“Cal did a great job of setting the table with that base hit,” said first baseman Marcus Sargeant, who drove in the Wolves’ first two runs. “We kept having good at-bats and all of a sudden, we’re right back in the game.”
Providence coach Mark Smith went to LSU-bound Jake Godfrey, who he wanted to save for Saturday, in relief. Covers ripped a two-RBI single and Jack Myers followed with an RBI single to cut the lead to one.
“All year that’s how we were as a team, we fight and fight,” Covers said. “Don’t let a hard pitcher stand in front of us. We did it against Mundelein [a 9-6 win Monday in the Rockford Supersectional], we did it today. We just came up a run short.”
With runners at first base, Buresch hit a hard grounder to shortstop Jackson Stulas, who flipped to second baseman Mike Madej, who then relayed to Rosa at first for the double play. Rosa was falling down, but kept his foot on the base.
“I was thinking just throw strikes, get outs,” Godfrey said. “I didn’t know it was going to come down to an 8-7 ballgame, but it did and we’re moving on.”
Godfrey threw 19 pitches, but guaranteed he will be back to start the championship game.
“We knew Dylan was out of gas, he’s tired, but it’s the last time he’s ever going to pitch,” Smith said. “We don’t make anything easy on ourselves. We made it interesting, but the big double play got us out of it.”