St. Francis designated hitter Jack Petrando knows to give credit where credit's due.
Although the senior came away with the victory Wednesday in the Spartans' 2-1 Class 3A Sycamore sectional semifinal win in nine innings over Burlington Central, it was a win he knew really belonged to teammate Jason Sullivan, whose first seven innings kept the Spartans from going home with a season-ending loss.
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Sullivan gave up 1 run on 7 hits while striking out 7, whereas Petrando pitched out of a Rocket threat in the eighth and put 2 of the first 3 batters aboard in the ninth.
Thankfully for Petrando and the Spartans, Andrew Brundage came on in relief for the two-out save, and even Brundage had his own troubles with the bases loaded. But that pitching prowess put St. Francis (22-11) back in the sectional final for the first time since the Spartans won it in 2011. They will face the winner of Thursday's semifinal between Sycamore and Rockford East. Saturday's sectional final is slated for 11 a.m.
"I don't even deserve that win," said Petrando, who was 3-for-4 with 3 singles. "Give it to Sully, give it to Sully. He pitched great.
"Pitching dominated today's game. Sullivan pitched great for us. (Danny Gerke) pitched great, too. He went (9 innings) but we eventually broke through in the ninth, got the game-winning hit by Tim (Zettinger), that was a good hit. Andrew saved me, I almost blew it, but Andrew came in and was clutch and finished it."
Pitching dominated to say the least. Central's Gerke went 8 innings and gave up 7 hits on 2 earned runs.
But Petrando deserves some credit.
He scored the Spartans' first run in the fourth on a double steal, as he stole home in that frame and scored the game-winning run off Zettinger's RBI single to right in the ninth. It was a tough run to cross after St. Francis had the bases loaded in the sixth and could not score, as a double play with one out squandered an significant opportunity.
But on the other end, Burlington Central (16-13) had a chance in the bottom half of that frame and couldn't capitalize on a St. Francis error with a runner in scoring position. Central also had the bases loaded in the ninth and could not score.
"At this level nothing comes easy, we're playing for one right there, we get one and hold them, which we did," Spartans coach Rich Janor said. "You never want to be the visitors in an extra-inning game like that. We came through there at the end, we showed real good resilience and all that so I'm real proud of our guys today."
The Rockets answered St. Francis' run in the fourth with an RBI double by Josh Lung, who accounted for the only extra base hit.
Central left 2 men on in the fifth, watched its leadoff hitter in the sixth get picked off and left runners in scoring position in the final two innings.
St. Francis finally capitalized in the ninth when Petrando singled to lead off and an error that moved him over to second. After a strikeout and two sharply hit balls to second against Gerke in 3 previous at-bats, Zettinger finally came through in the clutch.
"I was pretty amped up, ready to hit on the last at-bat and he gave me one first pitch and swung and missed it," Zettinger said. "He gave me another one high fastball, I put it in right field.
"We came out in the ninth inning ready to hit, we got guys on, we were ready to score some runs."
Which was something Burlington Central desperately tried, but just couldn't. Brian Cynova was 2-for-5 for the Rockets and they mustered 8 hits, but they just weren't timely.
"After the first, it looked like runs were going to be at a premium today, both guys were throwing the ball well," Rockets coach Kyle Nelson said. "A couple runs just got pushed across on a double steal and then they came up with the big hit at the right time and we didn't."