Baseball: Timothy Christian takes 2nd at 2A tournament
NORMAL -- Ben Jones stood on the field in a postgame downpour as Freeburg celebrated a state title on the opposite baseline.
Nobody was raining on Jones' parade, though.
Not after Jones and Timothy Christian, a team that won just six games two years ago in its last season of baseball, and was hovering around .500 at midseason this spring, made it all the way to the school's first state tournament appearance.
Certainly not after what the Trojans did earlier Friday, stunning a 33-win Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin team with a four-run seventh-inning rally in the state semifinal.
"I'm just super proud of this team," said Jones, one of three Timothy Christian senior starters, after the 12-0 loss to Freeburg in Friday's Class 2A state final at Illinois State. "Nobody expected us to make it this far. We played our hearts out and left it on the field."
Even in the championship game, Timothy Christian (21-9) hung with Freeburg (36-3) much of the way, trailing just 2-0 after five innings behind the effort of junior left-hander Jacob Friend.
Friend finally departed after Cole Sandheinrich's RBI single in the sixth made it 3-0. Freeburg, which won its second state title -- first since 1989 -- blew the game open from there, sending 12 batters to the plate in an eight-run sixth. It was plenty for Freeburg starter Kamden Casey (8-0), who struck out eight in a complete-game four-hitter.
Junior Fletcher Roemmich had two of Timothy Christian's four hits and reached base three times.
"He's a great pitcher, he threw a great game," said Jones, who walked in the sixth inning. "We have a never-say-die attitude, and we wanted another at bat. Obviously, it didn't happen."
Timothy Christian had quite a week to get here, capped off by a four-run rally in the top of the seventh to knock off Sacred Heart-Griffin 7-6. Sophomore left fielder Evan Montella had the go-ahead single for the Trojans in a back-and-forth game that saw Sacred-Heart Griffin score two runs in the bottom of the sixth before Timothy Christian's big seventh.
That kind of rally was nothing new for the Trojans, who trailed in every playoff game, including 5-1 in the sixth inning of a 7-6, eight-inning win over DePaul Prep in the sectional semifinal.
"I don't even know how we did it, to be honest," Roemmich said. "I did not see that coming but I know we have good team chemistry. We were down every single playoff game, so we knew it was no big deal if we kept fighting. We never hung our heads."
Even against a team like Sacred Heart-Griffin or Freeburg, which won 32 of its last 33 games.
"We're not scared of anyone," said Jones, who had a key RBI triple in the semifinal. "We're going to go out and play and we went out and got that one [in the semifinal]."
Jones didn't pitch in Normal Friday because of the pitch count rules, but he was instrumental in getting the Trojans there.
He went 6-1 with a 1.36 earned run average on the season, and delivered a 13-strikeout masterpiece in the 5-2 win over Winnebago in Monday's supersectional. Jones was part of a group of upperclassmen who played on Timothy Christian's 6-21 team in 2019.
"I knew we would be a good team," Jones said. "Obviously nobody outside the dugout thought that we would be good, but we knew what we had."
Timothy Christian coach Brian Whartnaby, holding the second-place trophy in the dugout as the rain consumed the field, did it with a team that regularly started five underclassmen.
But he had a strong one-two punch on the mound with Jones and Donald Tober. And he had a lineup that was clutch all year with two outs -- a huge difference from 2019, his first year as head coach.
"The word for this team was resilience," Whartnaby said. "We were 9-7 and now we're 21-9. It's pretty amazing what we were able to accomplish. We did it playing good all-around baseball and with clutch two-out hitting. Our 7-8-9 hitters started a lot of rallies for us the last two weeks. That's something we didn't have two years ago."