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updated: 6/7/2013 8:54 PM

St. Francis tackles tall task vs. Grayslake Central

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  • Left to right, St. Francis players Jason Sullivan, Jack Ciombor and Tim Zettinger celebrate their team's victory over Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Left to right, St. Francis players Jason Sullivan, Jack Ciombor and Tim Zettinger celebrate their team's victory over Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor holds up the ball for the umpire after tagging out Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana on a steal attempt during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor holds up the ball for the umpire after tagging out Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana on a steal attempt during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana is greeted by teammate Kyle Clark after scoring the Ram's first run during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana is greeted by teammate Kyle Clark after scoring the Ram's first run during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor makes the throw as Grayslake Central's Sterling Dixon slides into second on a second-inning double play during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor makes the throw as Grayslake Central's Sterling Dixon slides into second on a second-inning double play during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor lands on the dirt on a wild pickoff attempt on Grayslake Central base runner Matt Loeffl during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis second baseman Jack Ciombor lands on the dirt on a wild pickoff attempt on Grayslake Central base runner Matt Loeffl during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis shortstop Jason Sullivan, right, puts his arm around pitcher Andrew Brundage as Grayslake Central starts a rally during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis shortstop Jason Sullivan, right, puts his arm around pitcher Andrew Brundage as Grayslake Central starts a rally during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Jake Radel of St. Francis gets tagged out at the plate by Grayslake Central catcher Freddie Landers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Jake Radel of St. Francis gets tagged out at the plate by Grayslake Central catcher Freddie Landers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Croci of St. Francis runs past Grayslake Central catcher Freddie Landers as he scores during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Joe Croci of St. Francis runs past Grayslake Central catcher Freddie Landers as he scores during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen talks things over with his team during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen talks things over with his team during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central's Sterling Dixon is greeted by teammates in the dugout after scoring in the sixth inning during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central's Sterling Dixon is greeted by teammates in the dugout after scoring in the sixth inning during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana makes a throw to first during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central's Ryan Fontana makes a throw to first during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central center fielder Matt Loeffl rolls onto his back after making a diving catch in the sixth inning during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central center fielder Matt Loeffl rolls onto his back after making a diving catch in the sixth inning during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Jack Petrando of St. Francis delivers against Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Jack Petrando of St. Francis delivers against Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Jack Spicer of Grayslake Central delivers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Jack Spicer of Grayslake Central delivers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grasylake Central's Ryan Fontana scores the Rams' first run of the game without a play by St. Francis catcher Brett Jungles during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grasylake Central's Ryan Fontana scores the Rams' first run of the game without a play by St. Francis catcher Brett Jungles during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen replaces starting pitcher Jack Spicer as catcher Freddie Landers stands by during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen replaces starting pitcher Jack Spicer as catcher Freddie Landers stands by during the Class 3A state baseball tournament at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis relief pitcher Andrew Brundage deivers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against Grayslake Central at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis relief pitcher Andrew Brundage deivers during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against Grayslake Central at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • St. Francis players celebrate their victory over Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       St. Francis players celebrate their victory over Grayslake Central during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Grayslake Central right fielder Sterling Dixon hauls in a flyball during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.

       Grayslake Central right fielder Sterling Dixon hauls in a flyball during the Class 3A state baseball semifinal against St. Francis at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

At 6-foot-6, Jack Spicer is a big presence on the mound.

For those not used to such a big pitcher, the Grayslake Central senior may look even bigger.

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"He looked like he was 7-foot-2 on that big mound out there," St. Francis coach Rich Janor said of the way Spicer appeared at Silver Cross Field, a minor-league stadium in Joliet that is hosting the Class 3A state finals this weekend, including Saturday's first semifinal between Grayslake Central and St. Francis.

"But I credit our hitters," Janor continued. "We knocked out 10 hits today and we did the little things well. We got a couple of well-placed bunts down."

Playing small ball was St. Francis's answer to the big problems that Spicer presented, not the least of which was his intimidating stature.

The Spartans pulled Spicer off the mound with a couple of bunts that would have been tough for any big pitcher to get to. Tim Zettinger's textbook bunt with one out set up a suicide squeeze that scored 2 runs in the fourth inning, and that wound up being a game-changer for St. Francis in a 6-3 victory over Grayslake Central.

The squeeze, which also brought in a runner from second because Spicer's throw to gun down Zettinger at first base was off, not only broke up a 1-1 tie, but it seemed to wake up the St. Francis offense. The Spartans went on to score 3 more runs on 6 hits over the final 2 innings.

St. Francis (25-11) moves on to face Joliet Catholic in today's 11:30 a.m. Class 3A state championship game. Joliet Catholic was a 4-0 winner over Mt. Vernon. Grayslake Central (27-14) will take on Mt. Vernon in the third-place game, which gets started at 9 a.m.

"After I threw my pitch, I saw it (the bunt and squeeze) coming," Spicer said. "It was a great bunt. I could have had a better throw and it just pulled Kyle (Clark) off (of first base). It was kind of unfortunate."

The misfortune continued for Grayslake Central into the fifth inning.

The Spartans opened by stringing together 5 hits in their first 6 at-bats. Spicer was pulled after the first hit and St. Francis went to work on reliever Erik Skutnick. Josh Croci, Andrew Brundage and Zettinger all drove in runs.

"We just tried to keep picking each other up," Grayslake Central shortstop Ryan Fontana said of the rallies in back-to-back innings by St. Francis. "There's really not much you can do when they keep hitting the ball. We just tried to take it one out at a time."

That focus paid off as the Rams were able to put together their own rally in the sixth inning. Matt Loeffl opened with a walk and Sterling Dixon got on with a single. Justin Allen and Fontana, who was 3-for-4 on the day, then drove them in with a couple more singles.

But the Rams, who have been fighting long odds all season, didn't have quite enough fight this time. They left two runners on in the sixth and were retired in order in the seventh by Brundage, who came on in relief for starter Jack Petrando.

"I'm proud of our guys," said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen, who led his team to a third-place finish in 2009. "No one thought we'd be here. Graduation took quite a few people from last year. So to be back here with this group of kids is a much-welcomed surprise and it's one that I'll certainly carry with me forever."

The Spartans won't soon forget their semifinal appearance either. They're trying to remain businesslike, but they can't hide their excitement about getting to play in a state title game.

"This is hard to believe," said Petrando, who was the winning pitcher, improving to 7-1. "It's so exciting. I'm pumped for the game (against Joliet Catholic), I know everyone else is. We want to get it. We want to win it all."

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