LOVES PARK -- Paul Groot had a good feeling in the preseason about the 28th and final baseball team he would coach at Schaumburg.
Groot wasn't sure how it would equate in wins and losses. But he liked the way this group played the game and believed it was a good one to conclude his illustrious career with.
Unfortunately for Groot and the Saxons his career and their late-season run came to a tough ending Monday night. Grant jumped out with 3 runs in the first inning and kept adding on to make its first trip to the state tournament with a 7-0 victory in the Class 4A Rockford supersectional at RiverHawks Stadium.
"One thing we've done all year is we always fought," said Schaumburg senior third baseman-pitcher Matt Brancato. "That's what I love about this team. They never quit."
Although the ride stopped here it was still a magical last trip for Groot. His 600th career victory was the beginning of a hot streak where the Saxons came to Rockford with 12 wins in 13 games and beat three higher-seeded teams in the postseason.
Not bad for a team that was 13-12 a month ago.
"I said at the beginning of the year this was a group that hurt when they lost and got upset when they lost," Groot said after Saturday's sectional title victory over Willowbrook. "The first half of the season the kids were upset they weren't doing better. We were giving games away and we knew we were better."
So the Saxons did something about it and had a players' only meeting. They produced the near-perfect solution to start rolling.
"It was a whole new environment in practice from the beginning of the year," Brancato said Saturday. "It's just the fact our entire practices changed and everybody is working as hard as they can. One of those things we talked about was practicing hard."
Changes at the bottom of the order with Jeremy Hall at catcher, Joe Petritis at second base and Kedric Daly in left field helped make a big difference. The Killer B's of Brancato, Patrick Bellinger, Thomas Byrne and Colin Bethran along with center fielder Jordan Grubb and junior lefty Max Paolicchi made a third state trophy during Groot's tenure suddenly became a realistic possibility.
"We were never going to quit and coach Groot was never going to quit," Brancato said. "The way coach Groot believed in us allowed us to believe in ourselves."
Monday night was one of those games where it just didn't happen for the Saxons. Gutty righty Jared Helmich allowed only 2 hits on two days' rest and Brancato said "wherever you threw it they hit it" of Grant's 11-hit attack.
But there were many more good days than bad for Schaumburg baseball and Groot in a career where he finished with a 611-303 record, a state title in 1997, a runnerup finish in 1989 and another Elite Eight trip in 2005.
"I'm very happy and we competed in this tourney as well as I could have hoped," Groot said. "I'm very proud of this team and what they've done. They made our whole community proud.
"That's baseball. When you've got one kid on the mound on any given day this can happen."