Baseball: Lake Forest denies Lake Zurich regional title
After splitting a pair of 1-run games in the regular season, Saturday's regional championship baseball game between No. 3 seed Lake Forest, and No. 6 Lake Zurich was expected to be another close one when the teams met again.
And after moving the contest from Deerfield to Vernon Hills for better field conditions, the game did in fact go down to the wire once again between these two North Suburban Conference rivals as both squads had left-handed starting pitchers.
Lake Zurich (22-10) had its chances to topple Lake Forest (24-10), but the Scouts held on in the end for an exciting 5-4 victory for the regional crown.
With the win, the Scouts advance to the St. Viator sectional Wednesday against Highland Park as the Giants toppled Mundelein in a wild regional contest Saturday at Stevenson.
The Bears jumped on winning pitcher Connor Morrison in the top of the second inning when losing pitcher Noah DeLuga and teammate Michael Chialdikas walked with one out to start a scoring rally.
A two-out, 2-run RBI single to right field by No. 9-hitter Michael Gallus made the score 2-0 before designated-hitter Jack Moses' RBI triple to center field staked Lake Zurich to an early 3-0 lead.
But in the bottom of the second, Lake Forest bounced right back with 3 runs on 4 hits against DeLuga (85 pitches in 3 innings) to deadlock the score at 3-3. Will Davis (2-for-3) had a 2-run triple to center field to really get the momentum going for the Scouts.
"It was just huge to come back and get three runs back right away after they got three runs," said Lake Forest coach Ray DelFava, whose team outhit the Bears 7-6 overall. "We knew that Lake Zurich was an awesome team, and it makes it worth it a little more when you can beat such a quality program."
The Bears regained a 4-3 lead in the top of the third when Iowa-bound senior Tyler Snep walked and eventually scored on a fielder's choice RBI by DeLuga.
But once again the Scouts answered that run with 2 runs on 2 hits in the top of the third with a crucial infield throwing error that proved to be the winning unearned run as neither team could score the rest of the way. Lake Forest catcher and No. 9-hitter Brady Christoph's 2-run single after the error gave Lake Forest the lead for keeps.
"Give them credit, they played well, they got a big hit with the bases loaded, they got the extra ball to drop today, and they ended up with one more run on the scoreboard," said Lake Zurich coach Rick Erickson. "I think both relievers made some good pitches late in the game, and it was intense all the way out."
Morrison wound up throwing 108 pitches in 4⅔ innings before teammate Peter Turelli went the rest of the way on the mound to pick up a hard-earned save.
Lake Zurich's Jake Green (42 pitches) was also outstanding in relief of DeLuga as he allowed no runs on only 1 hit in 3 innings of work.
"We don't quit, and it's the next man up mentality with our guys," said DelFava, whose team had some nervous moments in the top of the seventh. "So I couldn't be more proud of the job they've done."
After a soft lineout by Snep to open the top of the seventh, Lake Zurich's Jack Pfeifer was hit by a pitch before teammate Sam Holtz popped out to Christoph. But when Christoph hesitated, pinch-runner Collin Callahan took off for second base leading to a two-base throwing error by Christoph and a runner on third base with two outs.
But that would be the end of the road for the Bears as Turelli struck out the final batter of the game to set off a huge victory celebration for the Scouts.
"This team is everything, it's such an incredible group of kids," said Erickson. "And everyone had fun from day one, and that's what it's all about,- having fun."