St. Viator has been in search of a clutch hit all year.
In lieu of that, the Lions came away with a clutch hit batter to win in walk-off fashion over host Deerfield 4-3 Monday in the Class 3A baseball regional final.
Roy Pettingill got hit with the first pitch from Deerfield reliever Aidan Epstein with the bases loaded to score Andrew Ferrante and cap off a 3-run Lions rally with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
“I didn’t care how I got on,” Pettingill said. “The coaches had said to stand close to the plate because of his sidearm pitching. The ball just hit me and I didn’t even feel it because I knew we won.”
“We haven’t hit well all year,” said Lions coach Mike Manno. “But we got a couple of key hits today. I am proud of the way our kids fought back.”
The third-seeded Lions (21-16) looked like they were dead until the seventh. Brian Wilhite led off the inning with a walk and appeared to be stranded there.
“I knew we needed me to get on,” said Wilhite, who is a three-year starter and has seen many crazy finishes — most of which have had Viator on the losing side. “We have found so many ways to lose the past few years on strange plays. But I had confidence in us. It was good to be on the winning side of it.”
With two out and two strikes on Joe Rossi, the junior, who made a spectacular diving catch in the first inning, singled to left. Ferrante followed with a high hopper to short that he beat out for an infield single, loading the bases.
Chris Myjak, whose error earlier in the game led to one of Deerfield’s runs, then hit a flare to right that dropped in to score Wilhite and the sliding Rossi.
“I just was looking to make contact and hit it hard,” Myjak said. “It really wasn’t that hard of a hit. It was an inside pitch and I jut fought it off and it dropped in for us.”
Cosimo Cannella was hit by a pitch by Deerfield starter Ryan Adkins, who then was taken out in favor of a reliever. Epstein then promptly followed after his warm up pitches by plunking Pettingill on the left arm.
“We always seem to be the team looking for a break,” Manno said.
It didn’t appear that Viator had any clutch in them. The Lions, who have looked for the big hit all year, failed to find them again on Monday. The Lions left five base runners on base, all in scoring position, including the first inning when they had second and third with no outs and failed to tally.
“I thought ‘here we go again,’” Manno said. “After that first inning, I thought we were pressing a bit. But we got good defense and great pitching to keep us in the game.”
Rossi, Lions’ starter Gunnar Kay and eventual winner Tim McElroy made sure to keep Viator close. Rossi’s catch with the bases loaded in the first turned into a double play when the Lions’ appealed that the runner from second had tagged up but left early. Deerfield still scored on the play since the runner from third had crossed home before the appeal.
“I was tracking the ball all the way,” Rossi said. “I didn’t care if I crashed into the fence, There was no way I was going to let that ball drop in.”
No. 10 Deerfield (12-23) had taken a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth when the Lions finally broke through. Myjak led off the inning with a single. Pettingill then doubled home Harry McCollum, who was pinch running for Myjak as the Lions closed to 3-1.
It was the third consecutive regional title for St. Viator, which will meet No. 2 Vernon Hills in the Grayslake Central sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We have a great tradition here,” Manno said. “We play a tough schedule, so I am not surprised to be regional champs again.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.