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'Sad that someone had to lose'

Grayslake coach has seen turnaround

Grayslake Central baseball coach Troy Whalen knows there are two ways to look at his team’s latest state adventures.

“On one side is Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills). All those Super Bowls, he lost. But we have been Downstate three times in the last six years and that’s unheard of.”

Whalen has coached Rams baseball for a dozen years. And baseball before he arrived wasn’t all that successful. Of course there was that regional title in 1970.

So what has happened at Grayslake Central baseball? Why has the program turned into a winner?

“As they say, timing is everything,’’ Whalen said. “I got involved just as the youth program was growing. Obviously, you have to have the players to win. We have dedicated kids. And when our kids come here, they expect to win. And that’s a very powerful feeling.”

With a pair of third-place finishes, the Rams (29-12) headed back to Joliet on Friday for an attempt at a state championship. And standing in their way was a 38-game winner from Springfield Griffin. And when first baseman, Kyle Clark, singled in the top of the first inning, the underdog Rams were up 1-0. And starting pitcher, David Llorens, made that lead stand up until the fifth inning. Central trailed 2-1 heading to their last at-bat. Senior Mike Stone started the rally with a one-out single. Two Griffin errors later and the Rams had tied this game up.

Griffin scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th. Springfield did not have a hit while scoring the winning run.

“The biggest thing was the feeling of helplessness,’’ Whalen said. “We got beat. We didn’t beat ourselves. It was sad that someone had to lose.”

Central had only two hits in the third place game and fell 10-1.

The Rams march to state began on May 28. Central took only five innings to beat Antioch, 11-0. On the last day of May, Central won yet another regional crown by stopping FVC foe, Johnsburg. The Rams prevailed 5-3.

On June 4, the Rams headed to the Woodstock Sectional. Central stopped Woodstock, 2-1. Central won the sectional crown, June 7. The Rams stopped Gordon Tech, 9-5. It was off to the North Central College Supersectional.

Central edged Fenwick, 2-1 to earn the trip Downstate.

“After that supersectional game, we just giggled and laughed all the way home,’’ Whalen said. “It was a state of hysteria.”

The Rams are beginning to chalk up some serious hardware.

“We’ve won six FVC championships,’’ he said. “We won three super sectionals. I’m so blessed to be part of three IHSA appearances.”

This 2013-14 squad excelled at come from behind wins. Two games come to mind.

“We were down 9-5 in the top of the seventh inning at Crystal Lake Central,’’ Whalen said. “We came back to win in eight innings. We were also down 7-5 with two outs in the top of the seventh. And we won 8-7.”

There was clearly some talent on this team. Sophomore shortstop Jon Hoffmann led the team in hitting with a .428 average. He added 25 steals. Freddy Landers, who will play next year at the College of Lake County, hit .408 with 12 doubles. Justin Guryn opened his season on the mound with a no-hitter. He won 7 games and pitched to a 1.61 ERA.

“We had a well-balanced team,’’ Whalen said. “Someone else stepped up every week.”

There were 10 seniors on this team who contributed greatly.

“These seniors were part of winning teams every year and that means something,’’ he said.

Speedy centerfielder, Matt Loeffl will head to Augustana for more baseball next year. Justin Dooley will head for Rose Hulman to continue his baseball playing days.

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