Baseball: Mannion, Prospect win tight duel over Mundelein

Prospect senior Jack Mannion was literally and figuratively in the zone Saturday morning.

The right-hander for the fifth-seeded Knights blocked out all the noise from the big crowd in their matchup with fourth-seeded Mundelein in the Palatine Class 4A regional baseball championship. Mannion was locked in on popping the catcher’s mitt of senior Nick Albrecht.

And a little before noon on a picture-perfect day, Mannion enjoyed the celebratory sounds from his onrushing teammates and Prospect fans after he completed a 6-hitter and 2-0 victory in a tense duel with Mundelein’s Joey Kafka.

“Jack was amazing — the best I’ve ever seen him and he was locked in right away,” said Prospect shortstop Drew Terpins, who went 2-for-4 with a two-out RBI single in the top of the seventh.

“I felt awesome,” Mannion said after his first shutout. “I woke up feeling like it would be a good day. Throughout the entire game I was telling myself I’ve gotta be relaxed and just focus on me and my catcher.”

Mannion mixed his fastball, curve and changeup for 78 strikes in 105 pitches and 9 strikeouts and no walks. He went to a 3-ball count just twice as Prospect (20-15) won its seventh regional title and advanced to Wednesday’s 2 p.m. Stevenson sectional semifinal against the top-seeded host Patriots (24-13), who beat Buffalo Grove 9-0 at Schaumburg.

Mannion also beat Mid-Suburban League champ Conant and Hersey and gave Prospect its first win in 13 tries when it scored 3 or fewer runs.

“He was tough,” said coach Randy Lerner of North Suburban Conference co-champ Mundelein.

“When he’s in command like he was today and gets his breaking ball over, it makes his fastball more effective,” said Prospect coach Ross Giusti. “We’ve seen that type of performance from him before and he really stepped up.”

Mannion’s bloop single to start the second led to the only run he needed. With two outs, courtesy runner Justin Bjorgo stole third and scored when the throw was mishandled.

“He picked up something and went on his own,” Giusti said. “It takes a lot of courage to do that.”

Singles by No. 9 hitter Finn O’Malley gave Mundelein (23-9) two threats with runners at first and second. Mannion got 2 strikeouts in the third and one pitch after Albrecht’s key block of a pitch in the dirt, second baseman Alex Tabbert started a double play with Terpins to end the fifth.

“It felt different today,” Mannion said. “It felt like I could throw everything where I wanted.”

Kafka was pretty similar with 70 strikes in 99 pitches for 8 strikeouts and 2 walks.

“Joey has been like that all season,” Lerner said. “He’s an absolute bulldog. A fierce competitor.”

But P.J. O’Grady getting hit with an 0-2 pitch to start the seventh and Tabbert’s one-out groundout led to Terpins’ hard single to left to score O’Grady from second.

“I have the same approach every time I’m up to the plate,” Terpins said of his work with assistant Brett Kay. “Look fastball and adjust to the off-speed. I saw the curveball well and deep.”

And when third baseman John Aquino fired to first baseman Matt Guza for the final out it gave Mannion, who is going to Illinois as a student, another chance to wear a uniform.

“One thing I told myself is I’ve got nothing to lose,” Mannion said.

As a result, neither did the Knights.

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