Baseball: Grayslake Central falls short vs. Prairie Ridge
It may have started with offense but it finished with clutch pitching.
And what fans saw in the middle wasn't bad either.
Prairie Ridge scored 4 runs in the first inning, then watched as Parker Swanson and Trace Vrbancic battled out of some sticky situations in leading the Wolves to a 5-4 win over Grayslake Central in a Class 3A sectional semifinal baseball game Wednesday afternoon.
The victory puts the Wolves into the sectional final against St. Viator, a 10-1 winner over Deerfield. It will be another road game for Prairie Ridge, but coach Glen Pecoraro is just fine with that if he sees more of the same grit he saw against a 30-win Rams team (30-8).
The Wolves (16-13) came out slugging, using a leadoff walk and 3 hits -- including consecutive run-scoring doubles from Matt Porter and Dylan Bremer to jump out to a 4-1 lead after one inning.
But from that point on, it was pretty much a duel of which team could battle out of the bigger jam. That nod indeed went to Swanson, who gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks but struck out 5 and never lost his composure.
"I didn't have my best stuff today, so I was pitching more to contact," he said. "I knew the guys behind me would get the job done. But toward the end I figured out my breaking ball, and it was working real well. I was just throwing that until they hit it. I was dealing."
So was Grayslake Central relief pitcher Quentin Ott. The left-hander entered in the top of the third inning with the bases loaded and only one out. He tallied consecutive outs to keep the deficit at 5-3.
Prairie Ridge didn't have an extra-base hit after the first inning and tallied just 3 hits in total off Ott, all coming on bunts.
"It was a game of missed opportunities for both teams, which will give coaches gray hairs when you leave guys out on base," said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen. "It's a pressure game, and the kids are trying their best.
"A lot of teams have a hard time squaring up Q. He's a soft-throwing lefty. His ball moves a little bit, and he kind of just pounds his own."
Ott did load the bases in the top of the seventh with nobody out and was relieved by Nate Mieszkowski. But in a clutch performance, Mieszkowski tallied an infield popout and consecutive strikeouts to light up his bench and the Rams' fans.
That performance was followed by a leadoff walk issued by Vrbancic in the bottom of the inning, increasing the pressure. However, Vrbancic looked nothing like a sophomore in the moment, tallying three consecutive outs -- including a key fielder's choice for the first out -- to end the game.
"Them not getting the bunt down (after the leadoff walk) I thought was the difference in the inning," Pecoraro said. "Real proud of Trace. I just told him he's going to be in a lot of those moments in these next two years."
Alex Milone was 2-for-3 for Grayslake Central with 2 runs scored. Bremer also had a pair of hits. Mike Szyszka had a run-scoring double in the first inning for Grayslake Central.