Baseball: Stevenson pulls away late from Buffalo Grove
Perseverance and patience.
That's what it took for Stevenson to win its regional championship game 8-1 over neighborhood rival Buffalo Grove Saturday in Lincolnshire.
Stevenson (28-9), which won their first regional title since 2015, will meet North Suburban Conference rival Libertyville in the sectional semifinals Wednesday at Mundelein at 4:30 p.m. The two teams split their meetings earlier this season.
"We a very lucky that we play great defense," said Stevenson coach Nick Skala, just before he was doused with a cooler filled with water and ice.
"We made those plays when we needed them."
Stevenson was able to move onto the sectionals thanks to some solid defense and key pitching in the first four innings.
Buffalo Grove (21-14) loaded the bases in the first. But Patriots starting pitcher Brett Gaynor got a strikeout to end the threat.
In the next inning, the Bison loaded the bases again. But this time, the threat ended when second baseman Colin Schmitke stabbed a hard hit line drive by Payton Diaz and turned it into an unassisted double-play.
Stevenson turned a 6-4-3 double play after a leadoff single in the third.
Buffalo Grove did break through to score a run in the fourth. Michael Wolverton's infield single with two outs drove home Ryan Stefani, who had singled earlier. After a walk, the Bison had runners on first and second, but a groundout ended that threat.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Grove pitcher Mason Hulligan was keeping the Stevenson batters at bay.
Hulligan, who picked up a win in relief on Thursday to add to his school-record 11 wins on the season, retired the first 10 Stevenson batters he faced.
Buffalo Grove took a page out of the Stevenson playbook when the Patriots loaded the bases with one out in the fourth. But Hulligan got out of the inning when he got a force out at the plate in a comebacker and a fly out to center.
The Patriots finally broke through against Hulligan in the fifth.
Frank Consabile singled and went to second on passed ball. He then scored on Michael Belbot's single.
"The first run for us was the most important," Belbot said. "It got us going in the game."
After Belbot was picked off, Matthew Bressler tripled and scored on Schmitke's sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
"I just wanted to get on base," Bressler said. "I went opposite field and it just fell. Then Schmitke came up real big with his sac fly."
Nick Rayyan, who was the third Stevenson pitcher, then got the Bison to go down 1-2-3 in the sixth, the first time Buffalo Grove was retired in order for the game.
"The boys in the dugout got me a two-run lead before I went out there and that helped," Rayyan said. "I had less nerves. The momentum turned to our side."
Buoyed by Rayaan's quick inning, the Patriots then went to work to end the Bison.
Stevenson rallied for six runs thanks to a pair of errors of by Buffalo Grove and a two-run double by Brandon Schulz, who had two hits on the day. Joe Richardson also had two hits for the Patriots.
"It really came down to whoever made the plays," Skala said. "With 14 seniors in our dugout we have been through a lot. Last year we had that trophy in our hands and didn't do it. But we are looking to make more noise. We will celebrate this for sure."
Buffalo Grove coach Bill Montemayor was disappointed his team left 11 runners on base, six of which were in scoring position. The Bison also hit into three double plays.
"We put a lot of pressure on them early," Montemayor said. "That double play hurt and we just left too many runs out there and couldn't finish. Mason pitched awesome for us. We had a great season. Just came up short at the end,"