LISLE – The script could not have been written any better.
In the space of two pitches, Joliet Catholic went from winning Wednesday night's semifinal over Prospect in the Phil Lawler Classic summer state baseball tournament at Benedictine University, to having to play on, to winning it again.
Nick Dalesandro, who had tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning with a two-run single up the middle against Prospect left-hander Tyler Damasky, greeted right-handed reliever Willie Sampson with another single up the middle with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
Speedy Mitch Boe, who had been on second base, raced around third with the winning run. But Damasky, who moved to center field after walking Keegan Tyrell, the batter before Dalesandro, threw a strike on the fly to catcher Grant Miller, who was waiting for Boe to arrive and applied the tag for out No. 2.
That left runners on first and second. But if Damasky's throw was supposed to demoralize the Hilltoppers (18-0), it didn't. Left-handed hitting Drake Fellows stepped up and drilled a single to the left-center field gap and Tyrell easily scored the game-winner in a thrilling 3-2 victory.
"I just wanted to stay back and take it up the middle or to the left side," Fellows said.
"It was a great team victory," Dalesandro said. "We picked each other up. I hit that ball in the seventh inning pretty hard and sometime you don't want to hit it hard. Then Drake comes up and helps me out and our team out. Now we go compete for a state championship."
The Hilltoppers (18-0), who are bidding to become the first unbeaten state champion in the 39-year history of the tournament, will meet East Suburban Catholic rival Nazareth (24-11) at 7 p.m. Thursday for the title.
"Naz is a tough team," Fellows said. "We've got to keep energized against them, stay in the game."
Fellows, the staff ace, started Monday's 1-0, nine-inning win over Prairie Ridge. He said he feels he has a couple of innings in his arm for the championship game.
The plan Wednesday was to use the committee on the mound. JCA coach Jared Voss started junior right-hander George Manikas. He allowed two second-inning runs, ending the Hilltoppers' streak of 17 straight scoreless innings in the tournament.
Dan Belling and Alex Ragusa pitched two scoreless innings each and Mike Quiram, who made an excellent defensive play at third base to close the top of the sixth, pitched a perfect seventh inning and gained the victory.
Propsect (26-7-1) held onto its 2-0 lead until the bottom of the fifth. The Hillltoppers had help, loading the bases on a dropped fly ball, a hit batsman and a two-out walk to Tyrell. Dalesandro then delivered the game-tying two-run single.
That was JCA's second hit in the game and they had only three entering the seventh, when they doubled that total. Boe doubled earlier in the inning, before Dalesandro's and Fellows' back-to-back singles.
"The mob did a nice job," Voss said of his committee on the mound. "Nick [Dalesandro] got the big hit to knock the two runs in, and he almost had the other big hit. Then Drake came up behind him. That's your 3- and 4-hitters."
And that's why the Hilltoppers will be playing for all the marbles Thursday night.