Baseball: Aurora Christian takes third in Class 2A state tournament
PEORIA -- The emotions were starting to get the best of Aurora Christian baseball coach Andy Zorger with the thought of a five-member senior class being able to finish a second straight season with a win.
And just as he did on the mound and in the batter's box in Saturday's 3-2 Class 2A State third-place win over Rock Island Alleman, Jake Kuntzendorf delivered in a key moment.
"You've still got me for another year," Kuntzendorf deadpanned to break the tension as he patted Zorger on the back.
The junior pitcher battled for six innings, including four no-hit frames to start before Alleman left two runners aboard in the fifth before pushing across two runs in the sixth.
"I didn't have my A-stuff. (In the early innings) I was hitting spots and painting corners, trying to keep them off balance," Kuntzendorf said. "(Late) I wasn't getting ahead of the hitters. I was getting down 2-0 and they were expecting a fastball. They'll hit that."
Said Alleman coach Jerry Burkhead: "I think we were being patient at the plate. We knew if we kept going, and kept at it, we'd have a chance that third time through."
But by that point, Aurora Christian (20-10-1) already had scored all of its runs in the third inning.
One of the seniors MJ Stavola legged out an infield single with two outs. Another senior Sam Tickel walked. Stavola stole third and then scored when the attempt to catch him sailed down the left field line.
Kuntzendorf then delivered a 2-run homer onto the berm past Dozer Park's left-field fence.
"That at-bat I knew I had a runner in scoring position so I was trying to hit it to right field," Kuntzendorf said. "He threw a fastball inside and I turned on it."
Those were the Eagles' only two hits of the game.
"Getting two hits is not ideal," Zorger said. "We got the big one from Jake and then we were able to manufacture some offense and put some pressure on."
Senior Hunter Thompson closed out the game in the seventh to secure not just a second consecutive season-ending win after Aurora Christian won the Class 1A title in 2018, but also the 101st victory for the seniors.
"This has been a pretty phenomenal class," Zorger said after the save from Thompson. "I'd be surprised if that wasn't the most wins by a class (in program history). They are great leaders and great men, not to mention great baseball players."
Said Stavola: "I'm really grateful for the opportunity coach gave me. I can tell you for all the seniors we're all grateful. Not many can say they've been to state twice. And the five of us -- Sam, myself, Trey (Madsen) and Hunter with Isaac (Skogerboe) coming in last year, we're going to be brothers for life."