Grayslake Central Rams (29-10) vs. Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones (37-3)
What: IHSA Class 3A state baseball semifinal
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When: noon today
Where: Silver Cross Field, Joliet
Grayslake Central's road to Joliet: In the Grayslake Central regional, defeated Antioch (12-0) and Johnsburg (5-3); in the Marian Central Catholic sectional, defeated Woodstock (2-1) and Gordon Tech (9-5); in the North Central College supersectional, defeated Fenwick (2-1).
Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin's road to Joliet: In the Chatham Glenwood regional, defeated Jacksonville (11-5) and Quincy Notre Dame (3-1); in the Sacred Heart-Griffin sectional, defeated Champaign Central (2-0) and Normal University (6-3); in the Sauget GCS Park supersectional, defeated Mascoutah (5-2).
Grayslake Central's tournament history: The Rams have placed third in Class 3A twice in the last five years. In 2009, they defeated LaSalle-Peru in the third-place game, 9-1. Last season, they edged Mt. Vernon, 1-0.
Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin's tournament history: The Cyclones have won two state championships (1964 and 1987) and placed second in 1982. Last season, they lost in the regional final to Chatham Glenwood, 7-4.
Coaches: Troy Whalen, Grayslake Central, 12th season; Mike Eck, Sacred Heart-Griffin, 8th season.
Today's starters: David Llorens, Grayslake Central (5-1, 2.53 ERA); Connor Etheridge, Sacred Heart-Griffin (13-0, 0.70 ERA)
Scouting Grayslake Central: The Rams, who have won 21 of their last 23 games, are making their second straight appearance in the state finals. "It never gets old," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "We have five starters back from last year, so I guess you could use the word 'battle-tested.' We have a tough game in front of us, but there's nothing we'll see this weekend that we haven't seen before. I think it helps that we were here last year. The guys are focused and ready to go." Matt Loeffl, Pat Burba, Freddie Landers, Kyle Clark and Jon Hoffmann are the five starters who played in Joliet last year and all five have come up big on the road back to Joliet this season. "It seems like every game, someone different has come up with a clutch hit or has made a big play," Whalen said. "The guys keep taking turns. Monday it was Kyle Clark, Saturday it was Matt Loeffl, the game before that it was Pat Burba, and it's been like that all season for us. Someone different steps up. It's going to take all of them (against Sacred Heart-Griffin). We're going to need multiple guys to be special."
Scouting Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin: Before losing its last game of the regular season to O'Fallon (9-3 on May 26), Sacred Heart-Griffin had won 28 of 29 games. The Cyclones, who have recorded an amazing 20 shutouts, are anchored by two Division I players in catcher Mitch Trees and pitcher Connor Etheridge. Trees was selected in the 11th round of the recent Major League Baseball draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He also already signed with the University of Louisville. Meanwhile, Etheridge, who is 13-0 and has 96 strikeouts in 80 innings, is going to Belmont in Nashville. "Everything we've read and heard about them, they're one of the premier teams in the state," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "They can score runs in bunches and they've got a deep pitching staff. We're going to have our work cut out for us."
Up next: Winner advances to Saturday's state championship game (11:30 a.m.) against the winner of Friday's other semifinal between Metamora and Lemont. Loser plays in Saturday's third-place game, which starts at 9 a.m.
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw