For the fourth time in the past five years, Grayslake Central's baseball team will be adding a regional plaque to its trophy case.
In an exciting 2-1 victory over Lakes, the Rams rode the arm of Jack Spicer and the clutch hitting of Kyle Balling, Ryan Fontana and Freddie Landers to pull out the Class 3A regional title at Lakes and advance to their own sectional next week.
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Grayslake Central (24-13), which trailed 1-0 going into the bottom of the fifth, will play Lakeview at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Spicer issued only a leadoff walk, fanned 8 batters and scattered 5 hits in raising his record to 8-3. The 6-foot-5 righty needed only 83 pitches, and Grayslake Central played flawless defense.
"Jack was simply amazing today," Rams coach Troy Whalen said. "He was perfect on a day when he had to be. Their guy (Nick Seketa) was equally tough.
"(Spicer) pounded the zone and threw with a great deal of confidence," Whalen added. "He really put us on his back. We are talking about a kid who threw less than 5 varsity innings as a junior, and here he is picking up a regional-final win. That's a testament to him and all the work he has put in."
Pat Burba led off the Grayslake Central fifth with a single. A Jay Hoffman sacrifice bunt and Justin Allen groundout moved Burba to third and brought up leadoff man Fontana. Fontana jumped on the first pitch from Seketa and singled sharply to left field, tying the game at 1-1.
"Huge at-bat by Ryan," Whalen said. "He did what you expect one of your better hitters to do, and that was hit the ball hard in that situation. Their kid was tough the whole game (4 strikeouts, 2 walks) and really had us off-balance."
After Spicer shut down Lakes in the top of the sixth, Balling greeted Seketa with a double to right-center. Following a Kyle Clark sacrifice bunt, Landers (2-for-3) singled past a drawn-in infield, giving the Rams their first lead of the day.
After two outs in the top of the seventh, Lakes managed a pair of singles. But Spicer ended the threat by getting a fly out to right fielder Sterling Dixon, setting off a Rams celebration.
"I can't say enough about these kids and how hard they have worked this year," Whalen said. "When you look at what we lost to graduation, to have an opportunity to play a sectional on our field for the second year in a row is simply amazing. Words at the moment can't describe how proud all of us coaches are of these kids."