Baseball: Washington's ace stymies Crystal Lake South in state 3rd-place game

 
 
Updated 6/11/2022 7:33 PM

Crystal Lake South found ways to make Washington pitcher Easton Harris uncomfortable during Saturday's Class 3A state tournament third-place game, but the big hit never came the Gators' way.

Harris, who will play next year at Bradley, dodged South's final chance in the bottom of the seventh inning, reaching back on his 110th pitch and striking out Mason Struck to finish off a 2-1 win at Duly Health & Care Field.

 

South (19-15) was at state for the second time in five years under coach Brian Bogda, who led the Gators to the 4A title in 2017.

It was a significant turnaround for a team that finished with only 10 wins the year before.

"We're a scrappy team," junior third baseman Ryan Skwarek said. "Again, we weren't supposed to be here. We fought every single game to the last inning and last pitch. We kept our heads in the game and tried to win every single game."

Harris (11-0), the Panthers ace who entered the weekend with an 0.89 ERA and 114 strikeouts over 63 innings, allowed only two hits in the complete-game victory, but the Gators had plenty of action on the bases with six walks.

Kyle Kuffel started the bottom of the seventh with a four-pitch walk and pinch-hitter Charlie Alfonso reached on a throwing error by the shortstop. Joey Weldon moved the runners up on a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, Gators starting pitcher Ysen Useni, struck out for the second out.

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After an intentional walk to Gators No. 1 hitter Dayton Murphy, Harris fanned Struck on four pitches, and the Panthers celebrated on the infield.

Washington's pitchers allowed only four hits all weekend. The Gators were caught looking on five of Harris' last six strikeouts.

"I think he mixed speeds really well," Bogda said. "He attacked the zone. He's a Division I arm for a reason. I thought Ysen was there inning for inning with him throughout the game. They got a few more hits than we did, and a timely hit where we were positioned at a different spot in the field, hit the ball down the line, and that's kind of the difference of the game."

In the top of the third, Panthers leadoff hitter and senior speedster Jack Limas hit a ball down the third-base line with the Gators outfield shifted to the right side. The ball rattled into the left-field corner as Limas raced around the bases and scored standing up.

"It was crazy," Limas said of the hit to tie the score at 1-all. "They were playing with their left fielder [Weldon] towards center field, I hit it perfectly down the line and I showed off the wheels. Right when I hit it off the bat and saw where they were playing, I knew I was going to score."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It felt great because it changed momentum of the game. They had momentum and that changed the whole game."

South plated its only run in the bottom of the first without the benefit of a hit. Murphy led the inning off with a walk, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. Skwarek then hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Murphy.

South was held hitless until a leadoff double from Skwarek in the bottom of the fourth. The Gators ended up loading the bases with no outs, but a line-drive double play off the bat of Kuffel and a groundout from Kahle ended the scoring threat.

Washington scored its second run in the sixth after a leadoff triple by Tyler Bishop, who scored on a hit by Keegan Isabel with one out.

Useni, an Illinois Chicago commit, was equally tough for the Gators, allowing a run on four hits. He struck out eight and walked three.

South graduates 10 seniors, but will return plenty of talent.

The memories from the weekend will always last.

"I feel each and every day we got better as a team and got closer and closer, especially this weekend," Murphy said. "We had a good time and enjoyed every moment. ... We didn't take any of it for granted."

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