Carmel's late rally falls just short
It was 90-plus degrees and the heat was being turned up quickly on Jake Rubin.
The Highland Park senior pitcher had already thrown more than 100 pitches Saturday morning as Carmel continued to make him sweat.
Rubin, the Giants' ace and starter, had a 4-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh — and a victory in the Warren regional championship game seemed all but a formality.
But the Corsairs weren't quite done.
Second baseman Blake Bucsa got on with a single and then Carmel's next four batters got on, three with singles and one on a walk, while 2 runs scored.
That cut Highland Park's lead to 2-runs.
As fans may have wondered how much longer the Highland Park coaches would stick with Rubin to get that last out, his teammates weren't doing any second-guessing.
They kept the faith that Rubin could lead them to victory, and he did just that.
After John Salvi drove in the run that cut Highland Park's lead to 2 runs, Rubin retired the next batter to cinch an 8-6 victory and the Giants' first regional championship since 2008.
Highland Park, the No. 13 seed, moves to 18-19 and will face seventh-seeded Stevenson on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Glenbrook South sectional semifinal.
"I did not want them to take (Rubin) out at all. If they would have, I would have been mad at the coaches," laughed Highland Park senior third baseman Alec Van Cleve. "I wanted Jake to finish out the game. He was in there. It was his game to finish because he's been light's out for us all season and there's no doubt he's the MVP of our team this year. It came out great in the end."
Van Cleve had a hand in that.
He helped take out Carmel starter Quinten Sefcik by drilling a 3-run homer over the center-field fence in the fourth inning that gave the Gianst a 4-0 lead.
It was Van Cleve's first home run of the season.
"I just wanted to get the bat on the ball and drive in a run because I wanted to help out the team," Van Cleve said. "I just want to get a good piece of it and apparently got all of it. It was great."
The Giants got another home run in the fifth inning, this time from right fielder Harrison Carl. Three more runs in the sixth inning, thanks in part to a pair of Carmel errors, gave Rubin just the cushion he needed under the hot sun.
Highland Park took an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning.
"Our bats have been really alive lately and (having the lead) was really huge. I was cruising through the first couple innings and then the heat just got to me a little bit," said Rubin, who rolled up 7 strikeouts and gave up just 2 walks in his complete game. "I started slowing down a little but tried to really work with my secondary pitches. I was just trying to make it through all the way.
"This was my game all the way and I wanted to finish it."
The sixth-seeded Corsairs, who close out the season with a 23-12 record, were determined to foil that plan and nearly did with 6 runs and 9 hits over the final two innings — including 2 hits each from Bucsa, Matt Ryan and Mike Stahoviak.
"We battled through adversity and tried to come back to make it interesting, which we did," Bucsa said. "But it's tough getting down like we did. I just wish we had gotten out to a better start."
The Giants are hoping that their starting middle infield will be able to start the upcoming sectional semifinal.
Shortstop Jordan Schwartz and second baseman Adam Kaplan collided head-to-head in the sixth inning as they both dove for a groundball that was ripped between them.
After a long break in the action as trainers tended to both players near second base, Kaplan returned to his spot. But Schwartz was helped off the field and then walked to a car, which presumably took him to a hospital.
"It looked like (Schwartz) got a gash on his forehead," Highland Park coach Edward Pieczynski said. "They were taking him in for some stitches, I think. We're going to go check on him. We'll see if he can play (in the sectional semifinal). We're hoping so."
After a promising regular season that included a successful ride through the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference, the Corsairs were hoping to play in the sectional semifinal, too.
"It's always tough to end a season and we had a lot of ups this season, so it's almost tougher," Carmel coach Joe May said. "But what I credit our guys with is that they battled today, and all season."
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