A Huntley baseball team accustomed to comebacks nearly pulled off an all-timer in the Class 4A state title game in Joliet on Saturday before dropping a 4-3 decision to Plainfield North.
Huntley (33-7) entered the top of the seventh inning trailing by 3 runs, the same deficit the team overcame a week earlier in the eighth inning of a sectional final at McHenry to walk off the host Warriors.
"We were all thinking about that sectional final game, the McHenry game," Huntley shortstop Jordan Goldstein said. "We felt it."
Goldstein was hit by a pitch from reliever Nicholas Cerrato (4-0) to open the inning. No. 3 hitter Kamrin Hoffman then upped the intensity level inside Joliet Route 66 Stadium by doubling just inside the first base bag.
"We fight as a team," Hoffmann said. "We always go to the last out and that's what we kept doing."
A Matt Rodriguez sacrifice fly to center field made it 4-2, and pinch runner Michael Boland scored on Hunter Rumachik's single to the shortstop hole to trim the deficit to 4-3.
Plainfield North coach John Darlington opted to lift Cerrato in favor of sophomore Eben Heine at that point. The right-hander ran the count full on Huntley's A.J. Henkle before inducing a flyball to right field for the second out.
After Rumachik stole second base with two away to put the tying run in scoring position, Zach Model fought off a tough 2-2 pitch, fouling it off his foot toward the Plainfield North first baseman.
Then the fireworks began. Literally.
Someone in charge of the postgame fireworks incorrectly thought Model's foul off his foot was the last out, so the teams waited 20 seconds as the pyrotechnics ran their course.
Heine came back on the next pitch with a sinking curveball to get Model, a left-handed batter, swinging for the actual final out. The strikeout sealed the first state championship in any IHSA sport for Plainfield North, which opened in 2001.
"Great pitch down and in," Darlington said. "It was perfect."
The incomplete comeback magnified a game-long trend for the Red Raiders, who never received the big hit they sought despite threatening to score in almost every inning. Huntley outhit the Tigers 10-6 but left 10 men on base. They hit into double plays with runners in scoring position to end the second and fourth innings.
"Obviously, we failed to get that big hit," said Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski, who finishes the season with a career record of 299-180-1 in 13 seasons at Jacobs and Huntley. "A couple of double plays, Model hits a ball right on the screws right at the second baseman, Kamrin hit one on the screws and the center fielder tracked it down. They made big defensive plays in big situations. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end."
Plainfield North (29-7-1) never trailed. The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Huntley starting pitcher Nick Laxner (7-2), who gave his team a chance to win against a lineup that averaged 10 runs a game in preceding wins over Plainfield East, Neuqua Valley, Brother Rice and Sandburg. Calvin Cangilla's single to left got the Tigers on the board. They added a second run on Christopher Miller's fielder's choice.
Huntley halved the deficit in the top of the third. Joey Petryniec led off with a single, stole second base with one out, advanced to third on Hoffmann's sacrifice fly to center and scored on a wild pitch.
Plainfield North extended the lead to 3-1 in the fifth inning on a run-scoring single to right field by Garret Cook.
The Tigers, who finished fourth in Class 4A in 2016, added what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the sixth. Brady Miller, the winning pitcher in Friday's semifinal victory over Lake Park, drilled an opposite-field solo home run over the fence in right-center field to make it a 4-1 lead.
"I got in a good hitter's count, 3-1, and I was just sitting on fastball," Miller said of his fourth home run of the season. "I just told myself don't miss it."
"We challenged him and he barreled it up," Jakubowski said. "Maybe nine times out of 10 that doesn't happen. That proved to be a big run in the grand scheme of things."
The runner-up finish is the best postseason showing for the Huntley baseball program, which claimed a fourth-place trophy in 2010. The Red Raiders set a new school record with 33 victories a year after losing to eventual state champion Crystal Lake South in a sectional final.
"That really hit us hard," Goldstein said. "We wanted to come back, we wanted to make a big splash, get our names out there at state. This season it really means a lot to us to come out here and experience all this. This is a great place, a great field.
"It means a lot to coach J, too. He's really proud of us. I wish we could have gotten him his 300th win. That would have been great. It's a great feeling to come out of here with second place in state. That's not too bad."