LISLE – Donald Kelly entered one of the biggest starts of his baseball career with few nerves and it showed.
The Nazareth senior came up with a strong start in the summer state final against Joliet Catholic on Thursday, but was out dueled by Hilltopper ace Nick Dalesandro. JCA won 3-1 at Benedictine University to claim the Phil Lawler Classic.
Kelly kept JCA off the board until the fifth inning, when two unearned runs came across. He left in the seventh inning, when the Hilltoppers added their third run.
"I came in with no nerves," Kelly said. "I was actually pumped, especially to face JCA. I knew they were a good team and I was going to pitch my butt off. I did all I could."
Dalesandro, a hard-throwing Purdue commit, limited Naz to just one hit until the bottom of the seventh inning. Brandon Bossard led off the inning with a single, but was tagged out stretching for a double. The next three Roadrunners reached base to break the shutout and mount a serious comeback effort before it was snuffed out with the tying run stranded at first base.
"I'm so proud of the way our kids battled in the seventh inning," Nazareth head coach Lee Milano said. "You want to give yourself a chance to win at the end and that's what we did."
In the top of the fifth Bossard had an errant throw from shortstop that kept the inning alive and put two JCA runners in scoring position. The next batter, Drake Fellows, singled in both runners to break the deadlock.
After winning the 16-team Fenwick regional the previous week, Nazareth beat Glenbrook North 4-3, St. Laurence 4-2 and Prairie Ridge 12-1 to advance to the state final. The Roadrunners began the week shorthanded with some players, including multiple starters, participating in a camp at Illinois Wesleyan with the Nazareth football team.
"I'm so proud of the way our kids battled all week, especially being shorthanded at the front end of the week," Milano said. "It says a lot about the team and the character. Arguably we ran into the best pitcher in the state."
The key will be to make this summer success carry over into next spring. A program that has had plenty of success over the last several years has even more reason to believe they will continue that.
"We have a good mix of seniors and juniors," Milano said. "Our junior class is strong, but this can't be the pinnacle of this class. They got to carry it over and work hard in the offseason."
Kelly can take his big game experience into next spring. He might even see the Hilltoppers again when the two teams meet in East Suburban Catholic Conference play.
"We're going to take all this momentum," Kelly said. "I don't really see this as a loss. I think we're going to carry it on and keep it going into the spring and do all we can and hopefully get to [state finals in] Joliet next spring."
Sports to your phone
Visit http://shawurl.com/texts to sign up and receive sports scores and alerts from Suburban Life.
Joliet Catholic 3, Nazareth 1
• Donald Kelly: 6 1/3 IP, 3 R, 1 ER, 6 K, 2 BB, 8 H
• Shane Gipson: 1-for-3, 2B, R