St. Francis generated only one scoring opportunity against Kaneland starter John Hopkins, but made the most of it.
The top-seeded Spartans parlayed all three of their hits into three fourth inning runs, then held on to claim a 3-2 victory over the No. 2 seeded Knights in Saturday's tightly-contested Class 3A Kaneland regional final.
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The Spartans (21-11) will face Burlington Central (16-11) in Wednesday's 4 p.m. Sycamore sectional semifinal at the Sycamore Park District.
Spartans senior starter Jack Petrando (3-1) pitched 4-hit ball into the seventh and left-hander Andrew Brundage recorded the final three outs with the tying run on to earn a well-deserved save.
"Both teams had their inning and fortunately ours was a three-run inning and theirs was a two-run inning," said St. Francis coach Rich Janor. "Hopkins was very effective for them and I'm glad we played just well enough to get this one."
"John pitched a heck of a game. I couldn't ask for anything more out of him and the boys played tough and picked up right where we left off yesterday," said Kaneland coach Brian Aversa.
Kaneland (13-18) grabbed a 2-0 first inning lead as Petrando hit Dan Miller with one out and Matt Limbrunner followed with solid single to left center.
Joe Komel's infield single plated Miller and Limbrunner came around to score from second when second baseman Jack Ciombor couldn't handle the force out throw on Josh Cohrs' grounder to short.
However, Petrando averted further damage by getting Hopkins to ground into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
"We came out a little hesitant, but we remained calm and played well the rest of the way," Petrando said.
It looked like the lead might hold up as Hopkins needed just 20 pitches to retire the first nine Spartan hitters.
The tide turned in the fourth as St. Francis lead-off man Alex Alcantara lined a single up the middle to conclude a quality 7-pitch at bat. Brett Jungles singled to left and Petrando lined a single off third baseman's Tyler Carlson's glove to load the bases.
Hopkins grazed Jason Sullivan with a first-pitch curve ball and Josh Croci and Tim Zettinger produced RBI fielder's choice groundouts to give St. Francis a 3-2 lead.
"Games like this are really intense and it comes down to pitching and whoever can get more batters out," Hopkins said. "They just started hitting the ball and came alive in the fourth inning."
Hopkins regrouped to retire the final six batters he faced, but Kaneland failed to capitalize on a pair of late scoring opportunities.
The Knights loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an error in the sixth, but Carlson's two-out liner to short was speared by Sullivan.
Janor summoned Brundage after Petrando walked Thorson to lead off the seventh. Brundage fanned the first two hitters as Thorson worked his way around to third on a passed ball and third strike pitch in the dirt. Miller grounded out to short for the final out.
"I really wanted that moment to come in and close it out," said Brundage, who generally works as a starter. "We lost here first game to Marmion last year, so we wanted to come out and win the regional. We believe we can go really far."
"Jack was wearing down a little bit and rather than letting the wheels fall off there, we thought we would make a change. We're glad it worked out the way it did," Janor said.
"They had one big inning and we needed to respond, but we couldn't get that run across," Aversa said.