Baseball: Wauconda edges Stevenson in NSC title game
It was a spectacular finish, fitting of a spectacular season.
Wauconda, which magically ran through the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division portion of its schedule with a 12-0 record, saved some magic for when it really counted.
The Bulldogs were two outs away Thursday afternoon from cinching the first North Suburban Conference title in program history.
When a hard shot careened towards shortstop Jake Grobelny, it looked like the ball might be out of his reach. But Grobelny put his glove out, snared the ball out of the air for one out, and then quickly flipped it to second base, before the baserunner there could get back safely.
That nifty double-play sealed Wauconda's 2-1 win over Stevenson, the league's Lake Division representative, in the North Suburban championship game, which was held at Wauconda.
Wauconda moves to 24-4 on the season.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling," Grobelny said of his game-winning play at shortstop. "With the size differences of the schools (the bigger Lake Division schools versus the smaller Prairie Division schools), it really shows what a special group of guys this is."
This is only the second time since 2001, when the two divisions (Lake and Prairie) of the conference were created, that a Prairie Division team has defeated a Lake Division team for the league baseball title. In 2007, Vernon Hills of the Prairie Division won the NSC championship.
"It means a lot to go 12-0 and then to cap it off like this," said winning Wauconda pitcher Kevin Malisheski, who rolled up 5 strikeouts over 6⅓ innings. "It says a lot about our team and our program, and that we really shouldn't be taken lightly.
"A lot of people might be like, 'Oh, it's Wauconda.' But we're feeling good and we think we can play with anyone."
Stevenson (22-8) was in the midst of putting together a spectacular finish of its own.
The Patriots were down 2-0 heading into the top of the seventh inning. But center fielder Henry Marchese ripped a triple against the center field fence. Two batters later, Jack Cappalli drove in Marchese with a single.
Stevenson had the tying run on and then got the go-ahead run on with just one out.
"We are always believing in each other," Marchese said. "This is a great group of guys. We just have a mentality that we can play with anyone and hit off anyone.
"We just battled. That's what we're known for."
Stevenson's fight in the seventh wasn't quite enough to match the damage that Wauconda did in the fifth inning. That's when the Bulldogs did all of their scoring.
After starting the inning with a quick out, Wauconda strung together three straight doubles, by Greg LePage, Collin Shrader and Grobelny (2-for-3). Each double seemed destined to sail over the fence, but fell just short and hit the fence instead.
Both Shrader and Grobelny drove in runs with their doubles.
"The boys have been clicking all year. They were excited for this game, they were ready for this game, and they came through with some big hits," said Wauconda coach Bill Sliker, who was honored before the game for getting the 200th win of his 14-year career this season. "The other side (the Lake Division) is very good. They always have been. But you get into one game and things can happen and they kind of did for us."
For Stevenson, which had been in the midst of a long winning streak coming into the NSC title game, Cappalli was the only player with multiple hits. He was 2-for-4.
"I told the guys that this might be the best thing for us," Stevenson coach Pat Block said. "We were playing well, and had won eight or nine in a row. Something like this can be like a learning experience for us in different situations. And we know that we can compete with great pitchers like this. (Malisheski) was a good pitcher. He battled.
"No matter what situation he was in, he battled. We had him on the ropes almost every inning early, and in tough situations, he wasn't fazed. Our plan was to get to him early and we had great at-bats early on, but when it counted, we didn't have that."