Wauconda turns back Vernon Hills' late rally
There wasn't much drama in the Wauconda-Vernon Hills Class 3A Fenton regional championship baseball game Saturday morning in Bensenville -- until the final inning.
The No. 1-seeded Bulldogs led No. 2 Vernon Hills 7-0 going into the top of the seventh before the Cougars put together a big 4-run rally at Redmond Park.
But that was the end of the road for Vernon Hills (16-17) as Wauconda (19-7) ultimately sealed a 7-4 victory to capture its first regional crown since the late 1990's.
The Bulldogs advanced to the Grayslake Central sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against Richmond-Burton. The Rockets beat Woodstock 10-5 Saturday for a regional title.
Singles by leadoff hitter Jeff Lindberg, Brandon Gibis, and Kyle Bock got the Wauconda offense going right away in the bottom of the first before Lindberg scored on a fielder's choice RBI by Luke Kenny for the first run of the game.
No. 6-hitter Cody Reese came through with a big two-out, 2-run single off of Vernon Hills starting pitcher Pat Crowley to stake winning pitcher James Holub to a 3-0 lead heading into the top of the second.
The Bulldogs tacked on another run in the top of the second when Bruce Pearl reached base on a bloop double to left-center before scoring on Austin Piekarski's RBI single to left field for a 4-0 lead.
Wauconda and Holub kept the Cougars offense in check as Holub got John Goehrke to bounce into a key 6-4-3 double play to end the top of the fourth with no damage.
Then in the bottom of the fifth, the Bulldogs scored again with the benefit of 2 errors on one play. Ryan Geary walked and went to second on a wild pitch. But an errant throw by the Vernon Hills catcher was missed by the Vernon Hills center fielder, allowing Geary to go all the way home for a 5-0 advantage.
"We had some opportunities to make plays early that could have prevented runs, we didn't, and they capitalized," said Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki, whose team was outhit 7-5 overall. "But you have to take your hat off to their kids. They had that 6-4-3 double play, and we didn't get the two-out hit until that last inning."
The Bulldogs added what proved to be a couple of pretty key insurance runs off of Vernon Hills reliever Nick Newman in the bottom of the sixth.
Geary walked and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Pearl before Piekarski was hit by a pitch and stole second base with two outs.
Lindberg followed with a huge 2-run double down the left-field line to give Wauconda a commanding 7-0 lead.
Lindberg came in to pitch the top of the seventh and it started off shaky when he hit No. 9-hitter Connor Dickman with a pitch to start the inning.
Vernon Hills' Jordan Freibrun reached base on the Bulldogs' first error of the game on a grounder to third base before Lindberg mishandled freshman Tom Earhart's grounder back to the mound to load the bases with no outs.
The Cougars' Tyler Feece came through with a solid 2-run double to right-center before Lindberg got a strikeout, a walk, and another strikeout to bring Jake Boyer to the plate with two outs.
Boyer kept the Cougars' slim hopes alive as his 2-run single to right-center cut the Wauconda lead to 7-4.
But that was the final outburst for Vernon Hills as Lindberg struck out the final batter to seal the victory.
"Everybody contributed, we had defense behind me the whole way, and everybody hit from our No. 1 to our No. 9 hitter," said Holub. "I think we have a really good chance of getting some wins in the sectional and I feel we're getting better as the season goes on."
Wauconda coach Bill Sliker was pleased with the overall team effort as well.
"James (Holub) was pitching very well, he had good velocity, and he was challenging every hitter," Sliker said. "We got the lead early and we played all three points of the game really well today. Our kids work hard and they came to the ballpark today focused to win the game."
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