Baseball: Grayslake Central beats Wauconda, shares NLCC championship with Bulldogs

Those who drew up this spring's Northern Lake County Conference baseball slate couldn't have outlined this final week of league play any better.

This week featured the top two teams atop the NLCC standings, Wauconda and Grayslake Central, facing one another in a title-deciding three-game set with the Bulldogs leading the three-time defending conference champion Rams by a game.

Thanks to a combination of timely hitting, strong pitching and solid defense, the Rams successfully defended their home field Thursday, winning 7-1 to finish tied with Wauconda at 13-5 in the NLCC standings.

It gave the Rams their 10th conference title in program history.

“I'm really happy for the whole team. Jumping on them early helped,” Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said as he prepared to mow the outfield lawn for their regular-season home finale versus Lake Forest on Saturday.

“If you told me at the start of the season that we'd get it, I would've been a little surprised just given (the fact) we graduated 17 seniors from last season's Class 3A runner-up squad. This group has worked hard, accepted their roles and if you're going to have a successful season you got to have seniors who are special and are going to come out of nowhere (and lead).”

Grayslake Central (22-10) gave itself the cushion it needed when it put four runs on the scoreboard in its half of the first inning. Three of the runs came on RBI doubles by center fielder Jordan Dumas, designated hitter Beckham Stone and right fielder Jacob Rand.

From that point on, Grayslake Central starting pitcher Jacob Redker held Wauconda at bay with a 75-pitch, 6-strikeout, 4-hit effort.

“I believe it was one of my better performances,” said Redken, a College of Lake County recruit. “I love the way my slider and curveball were moving. I believe we're one of the tougher teams to come by when we're on our 'A' game.”

He also got a spectacular defensive effort from third baseman Javon Johanssen in the top of fourth inning when he snuffed out a Bulldogs scoring threat by snaring a Cooper Vanselow smash, then firing the ball to shortstop Cayden Woods, doubling up the runner at second base.

Whalen called it the play of the game.

“Because they have two guys on, and if that ball gets through now they either got bases loaded and one out or they've got first and second and the run scores and it's a 4-1 game,” Whalen said.

After the Rams added three more runs on four consecutive walks, Wauconda (21-10) scored courtesy of Jackson Murphy's RBI double in the top of the seventh.

“We talked about being able to handle adversity,” Bulldogs coach Shawn Rudolph said. “We tightened up a bit and didn't relax. We've got to figure out how we get loose in the big moments.”

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