Paul Groot has shouted the phrase from the dugout to one of his pitchers thousands of times during his 28 years in charge of the Schaumburg baseball program.
“Come on big man, get us in here.”
On Friday afternoon at Rolling Meadows, senior right-hander Matt Brancato was the big man with the ball for the Saxons in the Mid-Suburban League crossover.
Brancato came up big with gutty complete-game 3-2 victory that put Groot in the win column for the 600th time in an illustrious career which is nearing its finish line.
“It was definitely an honor to have the ball today,” Brancato said after throwing a 5-hitter with 7 strikeouts to improve to 5-2. “I was glad he trusted me on the mound.”
After Schaumburg (14-12, 6-6) right fielder Colin Bethran capped an excellent defensive day by capturing the final out, Brancato walked off the mound and hugged Groot. Senior Joe Pentz struck quickly with the water-cooler dousing of Groot.
“It’s nice because there is so much history here,” said Schaumburg senior Pat Bellinger after his line single up the middle with one out in the sixth broke a 2-2 tie. “To be a part of No. 600 is a good feeling.”
And Groot was glad this team was a part of it in a career with a state title in 1997, a runner-up finish in 1989 and an Elite Eight trip in 2005. He and longtime assistant Tom Mueller, who retired after last season, turned a program that had only two winning seasons before they arrived into one with only three sub-.500 finishes since 1985.
“I’ve loved every minute of it here,” said Groot, who has won 67 percent of his games with the Saxons. “We’ve had great support from the community, the coaching staff, the parents and the administration. We’ve had a lot of great players through the years.
“I’ve had 28 teams and every one of them is really special to me. I’ll remember this group because they’re a bunch of kids who play with a lot of heart and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
Particularly Brancato, who used a fastball, cut fastball and changeup he had been working on with Groot to throw 63 of his 102 pitches for strikes. He pitched around leadoff singles in the second, third and fourth but a brief burst of wildness and 3 walks in the fifth led to Mike Dolan’s tying RBI single.
But Brancato left the lead run at third and retired seven of the last eight Meadows (15-11, 7-5) hitters.
“I got my second wind in the sixth and I’m glad coach kept me in,” Brancato said after his third 3-2 win over an MSL East team.
“My kid on the mound is a competitor,” Groot said. “I was going to stay with him and I wasn’t taking him out. He has too much competitive desire and I wanted to stay with him.”
Schaumburg took a 2-0 lead in the first on Thomas Byrne’s single, Jordan Grubb’s double, Brancato’s RBI single and Bethran’s sacrifice fly. Meadows starter Mickey Wazorick settled down and should have been out of the sixth in a 2-2 tie.
Bellinger made the Mustangs pay for two errors to the first three hitters. The original plan for a squeeze bunt was scrapped and Bellinger smoked a 2-1 pitch past Wazorick to score Brancato.
“I saw the third baseman charge and I was trying to pull the ball but he left a fastball right down the middle,” Bellinger said. “I was feeling locked in and I didn’t do too much.”
Brancato took care of the rest and retired the top of the order in the seventh.
“Congratulations to Paul and it’s been a pleasure (facing him),” Meadows coach Jim Lindeman said. “He’s done great things over a long period of time and it’s no surprise he’s won 600 games.
“They play the game right and play the game the way it’s meant to be played. Intense, hard-fought and smart. It’s a great program.”
There were pictures, cookies and a sign commemorating the achievement after the game. Now the Saxons hope to add to Groot’s win total and postpone his retirement as long as possible.
“We’ve had great players and tough kids,” Groot said. “It’s been a nice ride.”
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