Home has indeed been sweet for the Grayslake Central baseball team.
Last year, the Rams won a sectional on their own field.
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On Saturday, they celebrated another state tournament trophy in those friendly surroundings.
The Rams rallied from an early 2-run deficit to get a 5-3 victory over Johnsburg in a Class 3A regional championship at Grayslake Central.
It is the Rams' third straight regional championship and their sixth in seven years.
Now 26-10, Grayslake Central will advance to Wednesday's 4 p.m. sectional semifinal at Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock. The Rams will take on Woodstock, a 2-1 regional championship winner over Richmond-Burton.
"It's awesome to play in front of our crowd, to do this for them," said starting pitcher David Llorens, who gave up 2 quick runs in the first inning but quickly settled down and allowed just 1 hit and no runs over the next four innings. "We play for our community, not just ourselves.
"With their support, it feels like nothing can stop us."
Llorens, fellow pitcher Justin Guryn, who registered the win over Johnsburg, and second baseman Jay Hoffman are juniors who were all up as sophomores last year. Along with the seniors, they know almost nothing but winning at home.
"We have such a home field advantage here. I can't really put it into words," said Hoffman, who drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. "It's been great."
The home field was welcoming to the visitors from Johnsburg early on. The Skyhawks tagged Llorens for a walk and 3 straight hits in the top of the first inning after beginning the game with 2 consecutive strikeouts.
Collin Ridout and Kevin Kordik both scored to give Johnsburg a 2-0 lead. That held until the bottom of the fourth inning.
"Johnsburg got those clutch hits in the first inning and we always say that in the postseason, 2 runs feels like 4 runs," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "We were pressing at the plate, we hit into a double play.
"But the key to the game was Llorens. He kept us in the game when our offense wasn't there. Anytime you give up only 2 runs in five innings, you're going to be in the game. You're a walk, a hit batsman, a wild pitch away from tying it."
Grayslake Central first took the lead in the fifth inning, when Kyle Clark drove in 2 runs with a single into left field. That brought in Hoffman and Pat Burba and put the Rams up, 3-2.
But Johnsburg (18-13) stormed right back and opened the top of the sixth with a walk and a single. Kevin Kordik eventually drove in BJ Graef to tie the game at 3-3.
"If there's one thing you can say about our team, and our seniors, it's that they have no quit," Johnsburg coach Sam Lesniak said. "Every time we play, they expect to win. They play their tails off and they're never going to quit. We've had a couple of comeback victories this year. These guys paved a new path for Johnsburg baseball. But unfortunately it ends here."
Grayslake Central broke up the tie in the sixth inning when, with two outs, Hoffman hit a hard shot to Ridout at short. Hoffman is the Rams' leadoff hitter and his speed to first forced Ridout to gun it and the throw went beyond first baseman Mike Pritts. That allowed Grayslake Central's Mike Stone to score. In the next at-bat, Pat Burba drove in Hoffman with a single to centerfield for the Rams' fifth and final run.
"The playoffs are on the line, once I hit it, I just run as fast as I can," Hoffman said. "I just go. You never know what might happen.
"That's baseball, and the little things matter the most."