Grant wins, the hard way
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Simeon Lucas' way-short breaking ball nearly broke Tino Torres.
The pitch, an excuse-me 60-footer in the sixth inning of Saturday's North Suburban Conference crossover in frigid Fox Lake, hit Grant's catcher flush in the Adam's apple on a wicked bounce.
Torres flipped over and lay motionless on his back, as Lucas hustled from the mound to retrieve the baseball before Warren's base runner could advance. Grant's athletic trainer had to be summoned, before a wobbly Torres finally hopped back up and resumed his catcher's squat.
"I went down to block (the pitch), and poor form by me," Torres said. "I should have tucked my chin in."
"Tino's a tough kid," Grant coach Dave Behm said of the junior, who contributed on Grant's state runner-up squad last season. "He must have gotten it pretty good."
Torres wasn't out, and neither was Grant against Warren.
After Lucas, who was on in relief of lefty starter Ryan Noda, got out of the top of the sixth with the Blue Devils scoring just 1 run, Grant struck for 3 runs in its half of the inning and held on for a 3-2 win.
The Bulldogs' come-from-behind effort, which included 3 singles, a stolen base and sacrifice fly in the sixth, pleased Behm, whose club improved to 8-3.
"We really haven't played a close game yet," he said. "It's good to play a close one where you got to do some of those (little) things. I'm sure a lot of division games are going to be that way — a sac fly here, a bunt there."
Nothing like a thriller, right?
"I got enough of those games (last year in the postseason), where I was running out of fingernails," Grant senior third baseman Tyler Gorski, who lifted the game-winning sacrifice fly, said with a laugh. "It was nice to beat a good team. It was a good game."
Warren, which scored its runs on RBI doubles by Nick Orslini off Noda in the third and freshman Matt Burch off Lucas in the sixth, fell to 5-7.
"We just can't finish at the end," said Warren's University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee-bound Adam Reuss, who started on the mound and threw 3 scoreless innings of 1-hit ball. "We'll get it. We're young. We got a lot of young kids starting."
Warren coach Clint Smothers wasn't happy with his team's approach at the plate, and poor at-bats have been a theme for the Blue Devils this spring.
"We're not making adjustments offensively," Smothers said. "We're taking pitches right down the middle. There were five times today where we were ahead in the count and we flied out to right. Which means we're hitting balls that are middle and outside, instead of letting those go and hitting something that we can drive. It's frustrating."
The frustration included the top of the sixth. Warren had the bases loaded and one out but couldn't extend its 2-0 lead, as Lucas got a called third and fielder's choice.
Then in the Grant sixth, with sophomore Andrew Hill pitching for Warren, a one-out error put Jordan Villarreal on first. Illinois State-commit Lucas pulled a single into right field, and Brent Spohr (2-for-3) legged out a grounder in the hole, scoring Villarreal from third. Noda followed with a game-tying RBI single. Gorski had two strikes on him when he flied to left, easily scoring pinch runner Matt Paret.
"At first, I was really anxious, swinging at everything," said Gorski, who will play baseball next year for Niagara County Community College in New York. "Once I swung (and missed) and put myself behind with two strikes, I told myself I just need to calm down, get my foot down and get the ball in play because I needed to get the run in. (Hill) threw me a curveball, I waited back on it and just put it back in the air."
In the Warren seventh, Dominic Cuevas (2-for-4) singled and Orslini drew a two-out walk, but Lucas got a swinging strike three to end it.
It was a win worth talking about for Grant, including its wounded catcher, who along with Spohr and Jake Ring contributed a double.
"It still hurts right now," Torres said of his throat. "My voice is a little cracky, but it's good."
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