When Grayslake Central winning pitcher Justin Guryn racked up a strikeout for the third out, that was the finishing touch in Monday's 2-1 win over Fenwick in the Class 3A North Central College supersectional in Naperville.
The Rams' gloves were tossed in the air and the team piled on each other in celebration. And they're getting good at this of outpouring-of-joy stuff.
For the second straight season and third time since 2009, Grayslake Central is headed to state. The Rams (29-10), who finished third in state last season and in 2009, face Springfield's Sacred Heart-Griffin at noon Friday in a state semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
"This is unbelievable. We did it last year. All (last) summer and this season, we worked to try to get back," said senior Kyle Clark, who connected on the game-winning hit in the fifth inning.
After the Friars (25-11) had tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the fifth, Grayslake Central immediately responded in its half.
Leadoff hitter Jay Hoffman reached base on the game's only error and moved to second on Pat Burba's sacrifice bunt. Then with two outs, Clark sent a 1-2 pitch into right-center, scoring Hoffman.
It was Grayslake Central's third and final hit of the game. Fenwick finished with just 6, so this was a game where it was best to taking advantage of a scoring opportunity when you had Guryn throwing well and with Fenwick hurler Kevin Forde also looking strong.
Clark said he wasn't thinking about how few scoring chances there had been. He was just focused on getting the job done.
"I looked at right field the whole time and I got my pitch and took it to it," he said. "I felt like doing something for the team. I didn't feel uptight or pressured."
Grayslake Central scored the game's first run in the fourth. With one out, Matt Loeffl walked and then Samuel Nozicka's groundball was well-placed and not quickly fielded. Loeffl was safe on a throw to second and Nozicka was on base with an infield hit. The two runners moved up a base when Anthony Fitzgerald was hit by a pitch. That set the stage for Mike Stone's sacrifice fly that scored Loeffl.
Guryn, a junior, improved his record to 11-3. He struck out six.
"It was a pitcher's battle. There weren't many hits, but the guys came through at the end. That pumped me up," Guryn said.
Coach Troy Whalen said what his team did Monday isn't easy.
"Chances are insurmountable of a team getting back to state after going the year before. But these guys believe," he said. "Guys like Matt (Loeffl), Kyle (Clark) and Freddie (Landers) were on the team in 2012 as sophomores (when the Rams lost a supersectional) and are battled-tested.
"I'm so proud of everyone. They put in so much time and effort."