JOLIET -- The best baseball season in South Elgin's eight-year history concluded with a win Saturday.
Prairie Ridge rallied for 2 runs in the top of the sixth inning and scored 2 more in the seventh before Storm junior reliever Austin Sayre induced a one-hopper back to the mound with the bases loaded to secure a 6-5 victory in the Class 4A third-place game Silver Cross Field.
"Nothing's ever boring with this group," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said.
It was the second straight day a late rally by Prairie Ridge (24-18) fell a run shy. The Wolves scored 5 runs in the seventh inning of Friday's semifinal loss to eventual state champion Providence only to see that game end in an 8-7 defeat when they grounded into a double play with two runners aboard.
"At no time did I think we were out of the game with the character of this team," said Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro, whose program took the second state trophy in its 17-year existence home to Crystal Lake. "These guys just battled to the last out. I couldn't ask for more than that from our offense."
South Elgin (25-11-1) got 5 solid innings out of 5-foot-6, 170-pound right-hander Tyler Brown (6-3). The senior held the Wolves to 3 earned runs on 6 hits. He walked four and struck out three. Brown exited in the sixth inning after giving up a single to Austin Covers, hitting John Myers with a pitch and allowing a run-scoring single to Kyle Buresch that drew the Wolves within 6-2.
Max Keough entered in relief. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, but the Storm caught a break when the Prairie Ridge courtesy runner broke from third on a groundball to third base by Caleb Aldridge. Storm third baseman Kyle Hays fired the ball to catcher Nate Brummel, who applied the tag.
Tim Jablonsky followed with a double, scoring Buresch to cut the deficit to 6-4. However, Keough minimized the damage by striking out junior outfielder Chris Slack and junior catcher Dustin Thelander to leave the bases loaded and preserve a 3-run lead.
The Wolves again threatened right away in the seventh. Marcus Sargeant and Austin Covers opened the inning with singles to chase Keough, who was relieved by Sayre after allowing an earned run on 3 hits in an inning of work.
"We're never out of a game," Thelander said. "I thought we could fight the whole time. We did a good job of coming back again for the second straight day. We always have a chance."
A right-hander, Sayre had not pitched since May 23, when he notched a 2-inning save against West Chicago. He gained an out on a groundout by Myers.
Buresch then hit a ball to shortstop that was bobbled by Dane Toppel for an error as a run scored, but the junior threw to third base and the Storm tagged out a runner for the crucial second out.
South Elgin nearly gave the game away. Sayre hit Aldridge with a pitch before a second South Elgin infield error on Connor Schneider's groundball to third base loaded the bases with two outs. Prairie Ridge sophomore Nick Schmidt then drew a walk to force in a run and pull the Wolves within 6-5.
However, Sayre was able to seal a nerve-wracking save by inducing a tapper back to the mound from Slack. He threw to first base for the final out to secure the third-place trophy for the Storm, the first state trophy for South Elgin in any team sport.
"I'm very proud of how they've handled themselves and gone through this," Kating said of his players. "I think this group has now set the tradition and the standard and the expectation of us going far in the state playoffs. Through this experience, hopefully, my program can build and become one of the best programs in the state. I'm very proud of them."
The Storm jumped on the board first with a 3-run first inning. Dane Toppel led off with a single and Jared Kramer followed with a chopper over the third baseman's head. After a double steal, Ryan Nutof walked to load the bases. Dan Asa sent a hard-hit groundball toward second base one out later, but the Wolves couldn't make the stop. The ball rolled into right-center field on the error, allowing Toppel and Kramer to score for a 3-0 lead.
The Storm scored a run without the benefit of a hit in the second inning. Kramer led off with a walk, stole second and moved to third on a balk by Prairie Ridge starting pitcher Ben Cilano (5-1). Kyle Hays picked up the RBI with a groundout to shortstop, staking South Elgin to a 4-0 lead.
The Wolves got on the board in the third inning on Sargeant's sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Schmidt, who drew a leadoff walk, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.
South Elgin got that run right back in the bottom of the third. Nick Menken walked and advanced to third on a wild pickoff throw by Cilano. Justin Bryski's sacrifice fly gave the Storm a 5-1 lead.
They extended their lead to 6-1 in the fourth inning on Menken's line-drive single to center field, which scored courtesy runner Justin Howard from third base.
The Storm then held on to win by the skin of their teeth. South Elgin finished 6-1 in the playoffs, losing only to state runner-up St. Rita in the semifinals, 3-2.
"I can't believe how far we made it this year," Brown said. "It's amazing how far our team has come, especially from where we started. The way we turned our season around and made it to the state finals was really just unbelievable."