During the season, more than one area baseball coach discussed Lemont in almost reverent tones.
They called the Indians one of the state’s best teams, without a doubt.
All well and good. But this is high school baseball, where single-elimination tournaments determine the four state champions. There is nothing in life more unpredictable than a single-elimination baseball tournament.
Lemont, however, held up its end of the bargain, winning the Class 3A championship last Saturday over Sacred Heart-Griffin in thrilling style.
With the Indians trailing 1-0, they had two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the seventh inning. They managed to fill the bases against Cyclones lefty Ben McElwee and Ryan Folliard became a hero never to be forgotten in Lemont lore.
He hit a single to center field on a 2-1 pitch to drive home the tying and winning runs.
“These kids never gave up,” Indians coach Brian Storako said. “Sacred Heart-Griffin is a quality team and a quality program.
“We hit the ball hard but at guys most of the day. We didn’t get much for it. Then we got the bounce when we needed it.”
The focus throughout the season was on Lemont’s brigade of Division I talent. Jake Latz, the winning pitcher in the championship game, and catcher Mike Papierski are headed to LSU, along with Jake Godfrey, who pitched Providence to the 4A championship, beating St. Rita, 4-1.
Indians shortstop Mike Wisz will play his college ball at Houston, and first baseman Jake Terrazas is headed to Saint Louis. Wisz and Terrazas both were key members of Lemont’s basketball team in the winter. Wisz, in fact, averaged almost 20 points his senior season.
Latz and Papierski reportedly have gone to LSU to begin taking summer classes. The Toronto Blue Jays, who drafted the Lemont batterymates in the 11th and 16th rounds, respectively, have until July 18 to sign them. If they don’t and Latz and Papierski play for the Tigers, they will not be draft eligible again until after their junior season.
Latz told me after Saturday’s game that it really could go either way on what he and Papierski will do. He said they had not had time to think much about it then because their entire focus had been on winning the state title.
Latz, Papierski and Wisz were named over the weekend to the 3A IHSBCA All-State Team.
Lincoln-Way West’s Luke Morgan and Joliet Catholic’s Nick Dalesandro also represent this area on the 3A team.
In 4A, the local selections were Providence’s Dylan Rosa, Minooka’s Mitch Vogrin and Neal Tyrell, Plainfield North’s Kyle Strepk and Joliet West’s Cody Grosse.
Any team with four Division I-bound seniors, three of whom are all-state, is going to be strong. But what helped lift Lemont to the ultimate level was the supporting cast.
With Charlie Wright and Garrett Acton in the 2-3 spots behind Latz, the pitching staff was excellent. Wright, who will continue his career at Joliet Junior College, would have been the ace on many staffs, and Acton was only a sophomore.
As for position players, kids like Folliard, Nick Wisz, Danny Dowiarz, Eric Tucker, Mike Gralla and Jamie Glista were vital to the team’s success, even if you did not hear their names quite as often.
In fact, Gralla, Glista and Dowiarz are the three who reached to fill the bases and set up Folliard’s game-winning hit.
“Every time Ryan was in a big situation, he seemed to produce,” Mike Wisz said of Folliard.
Postseason state rankings will have Lemont in the No. 1 slot. And if they don’t, they should.
I had a feeling the Indians would win it all once they won the Joliet Catholic Regional. JCA and Lincoln-Way West also were among the best handful of teams in 3A, but only one could survive the regional.
Lemont needed to beat only one of the other two to move on to the sectional. That was a perk for being the No. 1 seed. Of course, the Indians also deserved the No. 1 seed.
A couple of weeks after they claimed the regional title, they are state champions.
“This is their championship,” Storako said of his troops. “They deserve it.”
Exactly as it should be, although it must be said, Sacred Heart-Griffin was a most worthy runner-up. The 3A championship game was a classic.