The Dundee-Crown baseball team administered another round of shock treatment to the IHSA Class 4A playoff bracket Wednesday.
An underdog once again, the surging Chargers (11-18) erupted for 10 first-inning runs and were never threatened in a 15-4 dismantling of league rival Prairie Ridge (25-11) in a Huntley sectional semifinal.
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"We love being the underdog," D-C junior Zach Girard said. "We like people doubting us. Then we come out and prove them wrong. And we're going to keep doing it."
Winners of three straight for only the second time this season, the Chargers advance to Saturday's 11 a.m. sectional title game against the winner of today's semifinal between District 300 rival Jacobs (23-11) and Hononegah (23-8). It marks Dundee-Crown's first appearance in a sectional title game since former coach Fred Bencriscutto's 2007 squad qualified for the Class AA state finals.
Prairie Ridge originally intended to start No. 2 pitcher Steven Ladd, according to Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro, but the junior right-hander was unable to take his turn due to elbow bruising that developed last Thursday in the wake of his victorious regional semifinal outing against Grayslake North.
Senior right-hander Drew Buchta took the hill instead, but the lowball pitcher was met immediately by the D-C hitting committee and didn't last the inning. The Chargers sent 14 men to the plate in the first inning, scoring 10 runs on 9 hits, a walk and a hit batsman.
Girard, who went 2-for-3, scored 3 runs and drove in 2, foreshadowed swings to come when he lined the game's first pitch for a single to center field.
"That got us fired up right away and got everyone up and going," senior Trent Muscat said. "After that we just kept hitting."
Muscat singled in 2 runs, Vince Damato delivered a 2-run double, and No. 3 hitter Dylan Kissack singled twice in the inning, driving in 3 runs.
The Chargers collected 17 hits in 39 at-bats against three Prairie Ridge pitchers, raising their team batting average from .256 to .265 in the process.
"I'm lost for words," first-year D-C coach Jon Anderson said. "I don't know what it is. They're just hitting it where they're not and that helps us out."
"They must have dumped a half dozen or more balls over our infield," Pecoraro noted. "They got out in front on it and just dumped it over our shortstop, our first baseman, over third base. What are you going to do? That's the game. They found holes. We didn't. I tip my hat to them."
Dundee-Crown sophomore Jared Ludwig had a 10-run lead before he ever toed the rubber, but Anderson did not hesitate to pull him in favor of older brother Ahren Ludwig after Jared allowed 2 first-inning runs. Ahren Ludwig (1-2), a junior, went on to pitch 4 innings. He limited the Wolves to 2 earned runs on 3 hits, walked 2 and struck out 3.
"It's one of those games where your season ends, so we wanted to make sure that we didn't get caught in a situation where they get a big inning, they score 5 or 6 runs and get back in the game," Anderson said of the decision to swap Ludwigs. "It's a different ballgame if that happens. Ahren did a nice job coming in and shutting the door."
"I just wanted to come in and back (Jared) up and back up my team," Ahren Ludwig said. Junior Chase Bloch held the Wolves scoreless for the final 2 innings.
What is the difference between the Dundee-Crown team that won only 8 of 26 regular-season games and the 3-0 postseason edition?
"I think in the postseason we've had a lot more confidence," said Kissack, who finished 3-for-5 with 4 RBI. "We've believed in ourselves a little more than we did in the regular season. The main thing is we've come ready to play. We've been focused every game and we've had a lot of energy. That's helped us out a lot."