The Jacobs baseball team made winning one of the state tournament's toughest regionals look easy.
The Golden Eagles belted 12 hits -- highlighted by Connor Conzelman's first-inning, 3-run home run -- and Nick Ledinsky threw a 5-hitter to defeat Mid-Suburban League West champion Barrington 9-3 in Algonquin Saturday morning.
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The Class 4A regional title is the first for the Jacobs program since the school opened in 1975.
"I'm happy for our players, the seniors especially, and for our former players and parents," second-year coach Jamie Murray said. "It's a great day. I'm excited. It's been a fun ride and we're enjoying the journey."
No. 3 Jacobs (23-11), generated 17 runs on 25 hits this week in regional victories over No. 4 Barrington (22-11) and two-time Fox Valley Conference Valley Division co-champion Crystal Lake South (22-7). The Golden Eagles mauled two pitchers who entered the postseason with a combined record of 18-2.
"I don't know if it's the weather warming up or what, but we're catching fire," said leadoff man Ben Murray, who went 3-for-4, scored twice and drove in a run.
Barrington pitcher Scott Nelson (9-2) ran into trouble immediately. Jacobs cleanup hitter Grant Kale singled with runners at the corners for a 1-0 lead against Nelson, who on Monday threw a 95-pitch complete game victory against Crystal Lake Central and on Wednesday tossed 25 pitches in 2 innings against Cary-Grove.
That set the stage for Conzelman, who is playing organized baseball for the last time before he joins the Valparaiso University football team next fall. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior ran the count full and crushed a 3-run home run to left-center field, his eighth of the season.
"I kind of swung out of my shoes those first couple of swings," said Conzelman, whose 5 RBI increased his team-leading total to 33. "When it got to a full count, I stepped out of the box and settled down. I stopped trying to hit a home run. When you stop trying to hit a home run, you let the bat do what it can do."
Conzelman's blast gave Jacobs a 4-0 lead just five batters into the bottom of the first inning.
"We knew we were in trouble in the sense that they were going for their first regional championship," Barrington coach Pat Wire said. "We told our guys if we can weather the storm ... but the storm got rough right out of the gate and it was tough to navigate the ship in that regard."
The Broncos responded with a 2-run second inning. Dylan Balough's one-out groundball drove in a run and No. 8 hitter Jake Petersen's two-out single scored Jake Coon to halve the deficit to 4-2.
But Conzelman struck again in the second inning. He ripped a two-out single to left with the bases loaded, scoring Matt Hickey and Greg Sidor for a 6-2 Jacobs lead.
The Golden Eagles added 2 more runs in the third to chase Nelson, who was touched for 8 runs (4 earned) on 7 hits in 21⁄3 innings.
"He felt good, but he just didn't have it," Wire said. "He was a warrior, though. He wanted the ball, which is great."
Ledinsky and the Jacobs defense did the rest. The 6-4 right-hander issued only 1 walk and notched 3 strikeouts, but his main weapon was the groundout. The Broncos grounded out 16 times and Jacobs made only 1 error compared to 5 by Barrington.
"I was just able to locate both my fastball and my curveball," Ledinsky said. "We were mixing it up well and keeping their hitters off-balance. Their 2-3 hitters are phenomenal, but I was able to shut them down as much as possible."
Jacobs, which reached the Elite Eight of the summer state tournament last year, advances to face Hononegah in a Huntley sectional semifinal on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Indians defeated Boylan 4-2 to win their sixth regional title in seven years.
"Winning this regional is a weight off our shoulders," Conzelman said. "Now people will realize it's all not just talk. We are a good baseball team. We're excited for the sectional to show the rest of the state what we can do."