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updated: 5/20/2014 10:23 PM

Worth the wait for Prairie champ Grant

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  • Grant's Eddie Kusiak, right, tosses the ball to Doug Murphey against visiting Vernon Hills on Tuesday.

       Grant's Eddie Kusiak, right, tosses the ball to Doug Murphey against visiting Vernon Hills on Tuesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Grant's Will Zitkus gets high-fives from the bench after scoring  against Vernon Hills on Tuesday.

       Grant's Will Zitkus gets high-fives from the bench after scoring against Vernon Hills on Tuesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Grant's Will Zitkus, left, tries to field the ball as Vernon Hills' Jordan Freibrun slides safely into second on Tuesday.

       Grant's Will Zitkus, left, tries to field the ball as Vernon Hills' Jordan Freibrun slides safely into second on Tuesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Grant's Ryan Noda powers around third base on his way home against Vernon Hills on Tuesday.

       Grant's Ryan Noda powers around third base on his way home against Vernon Hills on Tuesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Grant's Peter Perales, left, slides safely into second as Vernon Hills' Jake Boyer looks for the call Tuesday at Grant.

       Grant's Peter Perales, left, slides safely into second as Vernon Hills' Jake Boyer looks for the call Tuesday at Grant.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Grant's baseball team had been waiting 10 years to win another North Suburban Conference Prairie Division championship, so a pair of lightning delays wasn't going to dampen the Bulldogs' enthusiasm.

Nor was an abbreviated game.

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After the umpires called Tuesday's showdown in Fox Lake at 7:40 p.m., 20 minutes after the game was stopped with Grant leading Vernon Hills 8-1 in the bottom of the fifth, players rushed out of the home dugout hollering happily and jumping. They then bounced through the handshake line and hustled to right field, where they laughed it up and posed for a team picture in front of the outfield fence.

"I was thankful enough to be a part of the season when we went to state (third in Class 4A in 2012)," Grant senior right fielder Tino Torres said. "It was a miraculous season. And now to be with a new group of guys, trying to be a leader on the team ... We got some great leaders on this team. We're just trying to make history. This is what it's all about, right here."

Grant (24-6) finished 10-2 in the NSC Prairie, one game ahead of Lakes (9-3), while Vernon Hills (21-10, 8-4) settled for third. Grant will host Libertyville at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the conference championship game.

"An anticlimactic end to a division race, unfortunately," Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki said.

After Lakes lost to Antioch on Monday and Grant beat Vernon Hills, Grant knew it would win the division title outright by beating Vernon Hills. The Bulldogs hadn't won the NSC Prairie since 2004, when it capped a run of three division championships in a row.

"We've been talking about it all year," said coach Dave Behm, who was a part of the Bulldogs' 2002 squad.

"We wanted it so bad," Torres said. "We knew since (Monday) that it would be one game, our home. If we win, that's it. And we did it."

The Bulldogs were leading 6-0 in the top of the fourth when lightning stopped the game, which was resumed 42 minutes later. Grant starting pitcher Doug Murphey had walked Connor McNamara to start the fourth. After the delay, Murphey got out of the inning unscathed, despite an infield error that prolonged the frame.

An inning later, the game was interrupted again by lightning.

Murphey surrendered just 2 hits -- singles to John Goehrke and Pat Crowley -- in his 5 innings. The 5-foot-8 right-hander pitched around 5 walks.

"I wanted to play the whole game," Murphey said. "I wanted to play it out and give the other team a chance. But it was a good win. I'll take that any day."

Grant had only 5 hits but got contributions up and down its lineup. Ryan Noda's RBI double and Torres' run-scoring single -- both with two out -- staked the hosts to a 2-0 lead in the first. Matt Mason's RBI fielder's choice made it 3-0 in the second, and Will Zitkus and Peter Perales added RBI doubles in a 3-run third to make it 6-0.

The Bulldogs scored their final 2 runs in the fourth. Ryan Mason drew a bases-loaded walk, before the next batter, Ryan's younger brother Matt, got hit by a pitch for his second RBI of the game.

"That's something we've talked about all year, too," Behm said of the Bulldogs' ability to manufacture runs several different ways. "We have two big bats in the middle of the lineup (Noda and Simeon Lucas), but we can score a lot of ways. We'll take whatever we can get. We'll get hit by a pitch, we'll walk, we'll bunt. We try to be scrappy."

"Everybody contributes here," Murphey said. "Everybody is a big part of our team. All the guys are one family."

It was hardly Vernon Hills' best game, as the Cougars committed 5 errors, walked seven and hit two batters.

"We've played better, but I'm not going to take anything away from (Grant)," Czarnecki said. "They're a great team, and they've played well all season. They beat us."

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