In Glen Pecoraro’s earlier years as a baseball coach, he admits he might have blown a gasket a time or two.
Prairie Ridge was playing close games, but not getting little things done that are vital to winning. Pecoraro, wiser with his experience, kept himself in check.
“I’m an emotional guy,” Pecoraro said. “I might have shown bad body language or swore in the dugout, done something to get emotional.”
Not this season. Pecoraro remained even-keel, thinking that would better serve his players. Pecoraro figured more encouragement was what was needed.
The Wolves were 10-14 in early May, but the even-keel approach paid off. Eventually, things turned around. They got as hot as any team in the area and rode that momentum all the way to the Class 4A state tournament.
Although they lost a pair of one-run games at Joliet’s Silver Cross Field, one of the Wolves’ least likely teams in school history came home with a fourth-place state trophy. Pecoraro is the decisive pick for Northwest Herald Coach of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
“I thought I did a good job of controlling my emotions and temperament when things weren’t going well, and that reflected on everybody else,” Pecoraro said.
The Wolves’ run started with a series sweep of Jacobs, followed by winning two games against Crystal Lake South, a team they hadn’t beaten in four years. Prairie Ridge finished third in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division, behind Huntley and Jacobs, but carried that momentum into the postseason.
“It was fun to watch their body language, how they took the field and how their confidence grew through the season,” Pecoraro said. “We peaked at the right time. The guys were feeling good about themselves at the right time.”
Pitchers Ben Cilano and Austin Covers allowed two total runs through the regional and sectional. Right fielder Jack Myers closed every one of those games. Designated hitter-first baseman Marcus Sargeant, third baseman Cal Aldridge and left fielder Kyle Buresch continued coming up with big hits.
“[Pecoraro] doesn’t want the awards and accolades for himself, he wants us to win,” Buresch said. “He coaches the game the right way, that’s for sure.”
Prairie Ridge had some bumps in the road. Sophomore pitcher Ethan Routzahn figured to be a fixture in the rotation but suffered an elbow injury and had Tommy John surgery in April. Pecoraro dismissed his son Danny from the team, and two other starters, pitcher Danny Burris and second baseman Jack Lasswell, were suspended for Code of Conduct violations.
Still, the Wolves persevered.
“He made sure we didn’t lay down, we kept our heads up and he let us know we had the players to make the run,” pitcher-first baseman Austin Covers said. “And that’s what we did.”
All along, Pecoraro had urged his players to just stay on course.
“Every time something happened, we’re just giving another guy an opportunity to be successful,” Pecoraro said. “We’re giving another guy an opportunity to get on the field.”
The finish was nothing that could have been scripted. No one would have believed it.
In the Rockford Aviators Supersectional, shortstop Nick Schmidt was dazed when he collided with Buresch chasing a fly ball in the top of the fifth inning. Schmidt told the coaches to pinch-hit for him, and Pecoraro called on senior Tim Jablonsky with the bases loaded and two outs.
Jablonsky promptly ripped a grand slam for a 9-6 lead, and sophomore reliever Jon Tieman preserved over the final two innings.
At state, the Wolves came up short in rallies against Providence, 8-7, and South Elgin, 6-5, but they proved they could play with anyone. Pecoraro, who started Prairie Ridge’s program in the 1997-98 school year, finally had a trophy.
“He’s awesome,” Buresch said. “Every day’s an adventure, and I mean that in a good way. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s been around baseball his whole life, and I trust everything he says.”