Baseball: Freshman reliever comes through in clutch for Maine South
It couldn't have been a more pressure-packed situation for a freshman.
With the Central Suburban South title on the line Wednesday, Maine South had built a 6-1 lead over visiting New Trier through 6 innings.
But the Trevians struck for 3 runs in the top of the seventh, then loaded the bases with two outs.
And when the next New Trier batter went to a 2-0 count, Hawks head coach Brian Lorenz made the gutsy move to call freshman lefty Sam Higgins in from the pen.
Turned out to be the right call for sure.
Higgins rewarded his coach's faith in him by getting the Trevians hitter to hit a pop-up in foul territory near the Maine South dugout, where it was snagged by third baseman Logan Tomlinson for the final out.
The 6-4 win in Park Ridge, before a big crowd in the final conference game of the year, saw the Hawks improve to 13-3 in the CS South and let them earn at least a share of the crown.
They'll win the championship outright if Evanston beats Glenbrook North in their final conference contest. If the Spartans win, they'll tie the Hawks for first.
"He's been getting the job done all year," said Maine South coach Brian Lorenz of Higgins. "He hasn't acted like a freshman. He's mature for his age group, and being left-handed helps."
"He was up and down (in the bullpen) the whole game, but that's part of the job of being a relief pitcher. You never know when you're going to get in to the game."
The freshman looked cool and collected on the mound, although he said he "was shaking a little bit."
He added though, that he was confident taking the hill in such a clutch situation.
"It felt great," Higgins added. "Lots of people here, really loud. I just tried to come in and throw strikes and even up the count."
Maine South scored 2 runs in the first inning, with seniors Joe Ward and Kerim Orucevic getting the runs batted in.
New Trier closed the gap to 2-1 by plating a run in the fourth, but Maine South struck for 3 tallies in the bottom of the frame.
Orucevic had the big hit, a sharp single to center field that sent two runners home.
The Hawks increased the lead to 6-1, and starter Drew Koenen cruised through 6 innings, giving up just 3 hits and striking out 11.
But New Trier battled back against in the seventh, putting the lead run on base and setting the stage for Higgins.
With the game on the line, the freshman threw a first pitch strike. New Trier's Ben Toft then worked the count to 3-1 before hitting the popup that closed out the game.
Higgins said he has thrown "about 20-ish" innings so far this year, including one start.
"Being a freshman," he said, "I didn't expect to get this many innings, but it's been exciting."
"Coming in with a 2-0 count with the bases loaded and the crowd we had today, I couldn't be more proud of him, said senior teammate Brady Marques.
Ward was on base three times for the Hawks including a couple of singles and a walk. Catcher Ben Labutka pitched in with 2 hits.
Maine South's triumph gave them a split in the home-and-home series with the Trevians.
New Trier had taken Monday's matchup, and Marques said the Hawks win Wednesday was all about "timely hitting."
"Monday we had runners on base, but we couldn't get them in," Marques said. "Today we got them in and our starting pitcher was really strong."