With one swing of the bat, St. Francis designated hitter Jake Radel did three things.
The sophomore upheld Spartans coach Rich Janor's confidence in starting him. He proved baseball is great for second chances.
Most importantly Radel's clutch basehit gave St. Francis a 1-0 victory Saturday to win the Class 3A Sycamore sectional over the host school.
In the fifth inning Radel had fouled off two squeeze bunt attempts with Tim Zettinger charging hard from third. That tactic nullified, Radel then watched strike three go by.
"A bunch of my teammates picked me up in the dugout, which was really (nice), they told me not to worry about it. I'd get another chance and I did," Radel said.
With two outs in the seventh and Zettinger on second base after Andrew Brundage's sacrifice bunt, with a 2-2 count Radel fouled off three pitches then lined a Cole Nelson fastball into center field. Running with the pitch, Zettinger easily scored ahead of the throw.
Radel said he was "looking for not a strike three."
"Anything can happen in baseball, that's what it proves," he said.
"We had a feeling that he might be the guy today," said Janor, inserting the infielder into the DH spot based on solid practice swings.
Because Radel was the guy -- and due to errorless defense and Jack Petrando and Brundage on the mound -- St. Francis (23-11) won its second sectional title in three seasons. The Spartans advance to Monday's Rock Island supersectional, where at Augustana College they'll face Metamora, a 7-4 winner over Peoria Notre Dame.
St. Francis sophomore Jason Sullivan (7-1) will get the start. He'll do well to match what Petrando (6-1) did Saturday.
Dueling Cole Nelson (7-1), who threw a 3-hitter in defeat, Petrando held Sycamore (25-12) from third base until the final inning. The senior right-hander got support by two double plays and catcher Brett Jungles erasing a would-be basestealer.
Janor lifted Petrando in the seventh after he hit the first batter, got a popout, allowed a hard single to center then went 2-0 on the next batter.
"We don't want the wheels to fall off there," Janor said.
In came Brundage, the lefty. He threw two balls to load the bases before coaxing a shallow fly to center fielder Alex Alcantara and ending the game on a sky-high pop to third baseman Zettinger for Brundage's fourth save.
"Three-two count, bases loaded, I mean that's what you dream about right there," said Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh. "He made the pitch and they made the play."
"I was pretty nervous," Brundage said, "and I was still sort of pressured, but I've sort of done it the last two games, so I just knew that if you throw strikes my defense will back me up."
"Andrew was clutch," said Petrando, who yielded 5 hits. "I did that to him the other day on Wednesday at our first sectional game. I put him in a pressure situation and he came through in the clutch and he did again today. He's got ice in his veins."