Baseball: Nazareth denies Grayslake Central in 3A championship game
Grayslake Central's first trip to the Class 3A state championship game was a disappointment only in the final score. The Rams felt short, losing to Nazareth Academy 7-2 Saturday at Duly Stadium in Joliet.
It was the second consecutive Class 3A title for Nazareth (34-6). The Roadrunners only allowed five runs in their six tournament games.
The second-place finish, which came in front of a large and boisterous fan group that made the 90-minute trek from Grayslake, was the highest finish in school history.
"I can't say enough about the Ram Nation that traveled," said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen, whose teams had finished third twice and fourth on two other occasions.
"Today wasn't our day. It was our season, but today just want our day. That's baseball. The bus ride home will still be OK. These are a great group of kids. To end the season here is great."
The loss ended a record-setting season for the Rams (33-8).
Besides being the first team to advance to the state finals, this Grayslake Central team set a school-record for wins in a season. They also were undefeated in Northern Lake County play and also had a 20-game win streak during the regular season.
"It still has sunken yet," said Adam Fitzgerald, who would have two hits and an RBI. "We got second in state. I still feel like I am going to wake up and we are 12 years old and we are at Cooperstown playing together, I just loved playing with these guys."
The Rams had their chances. They left 10 runners on base and had three others erased on base running gaffes. They also walked eight batters and allowed 10 hits.
"We knew we were going to have to play well," Whalen said. "And get some breaks. I don't think we did either. We battled every inning and we were just missing that one hit. But as you can see, there was no quit. "
Grayslake Central had an opportunity to get on the board in the first two innings.
Jack Gerbasi was hit by a pitch, stole second and went to third on Luke Mudd's infield single. But the threat ended on a strikeout and failed double steal attempt on the same pitch.
In the second, the Rams had runners on first and second with two outs. But Nazareth pitcher Finn O'Meara picked off a runner to end that threat.
It then got even worse for the Rams.
After two quick outs, the Roadrunners parlayed five walks, a single and a wild pitch as Nazareth surged ahead 3-0.
Grayslake had another opportunity to get back into the game in the fourth. Thanks to a pair of walks, they had runners on first and second with one out.
Cal Hanson then drilled a laser beam that appeared to be headed toward the gap in left center, However, Nazareth shortstop Copper Malamazian made a tremendous leaping catch. To add to it, Malamazian fired to first for a double play.
The Roadrunners were sparked by that play. They struck for three more runs thanks to a triple, walk, double and a single to make it 6-0.
The Rams tried to make things interesting after that.
In the fifth, Sam Cooper led off the inning with a double. He was then able to score on Fitzgerald's single. However, the Rams left two runners on in that inning.
In the next frame, Grayslake Central was able to push across another run. Cooper's fielder's choice scored Riley Policht, who had singled to lead off. Again the inning ended with a disappointment as the Rams left the bases full.
Nazareth ended the scoring on a home run by David Cox.
"It just didn't work out in our favor," Gerbasi said. "The balls weren't falling for us. There was no way we were going to give up until the end. I got to play with my best friends. It was really surreal for all of us."
Policht said that despite the second-place finish, it will be a season that he and his teammates will be proud of forever.
"It was crazy," Policht said, "It was a roller-coaster ride to say the least. We started out the season so bad. We were told that we were the team that would break the streak of regional championships. To just be here in the state championship is a dream that we have had since we were eight."