Eagles fall to Lake Park in third-place game
By Jason Maholy
Sandburg entered the Class 4A state finals one of the hottest teams in the state.
The Eagles had going into their semifinal contest against Plainfield North won eight straight games and 24 of its last 27, and during that stretch scored 6.6 runs per game. Sandburg had also proven to be resilient, never losing consecutive games over the course of the season.
Neither trend continued last weekend at Route 66 Stadium in Joliet in the Eagles’ first trip to the state finals since 2003. The Eagles fell to the eventual state champion Tigers, 7-3, in the semifinals on June 8, and followed that up the next day with a 7-1 loss to Lake Park in the third-place game.
The season, obviously, didn’t end the way Sandburg’s coaches and players had hoped, but finishing fourth in Illinois isn’t anything of which to be ashamed.
“It’s a great group of guys here, man,” Sandburg outfielder Ian Sanders said after the Eagles received their fourth-place trophy. “It feels great – just a sad moment that everyone’s leaving. But, overall, we had a great season and it was nice to play for this team.”
Sanders played a major role in the Eagles’ march through the playoffs. The fleet-footed junior scored the winning run in Sandburg’s walk-off victory over Providence in the Providence Regional title game, a contest in which the Eagles came from behind three times – the final time on a two-out, two run double by Brian Adams in the bottom of the seventh. Sanders believes that emotional win helped propel the Eagles through the postseason.
“It was a high intensity game throughout and got us going, got our momentum going,” he said. “I think because of that game we took that with us through the playoffs.”
Sandburg coach Jim Morsovillo sent senior right-hander Evan Tenuta to the mound in the third-place game, and he responded by shutting out Lake Park on two hits through 2 1/3 innings. Once Tenuta was out of the game, the Lancers promptly pounced on the Eagles bullpen. Senior southpaw Seth Masters’ first pitch was clubbed to the left field wall, and Lake Park went on to score five runs in the inning to break the game open.
Another of Sandburg’s talented seniors, catcher Ryan Hampe, went 1-for-3, and his 55 hitswere one shy of breaking the program’s record for hits in a season. Hampe had the chance to set a new mark but popped out for the final out of the Eagles’ season.
North-bound and down
Plainfield North coach John Darlington was coming into the semifinal well aware of the Eagles’ offensive proficiency, and sent ace Brady Miller to the mound with a berth in the state title game on the line. Miller delivered, allowing two runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings and ending Sandburg’s dream of playing for its second state championship. The Eagles won the Class AA title in 2002.
“They’re such a good hitting team, and for [Miller] to go out and pitch the way he did… he had them off-balance,” Darlington said. “They made some good swings on him and we made plays when we needed to.”
The Tigers coach was complimentary of Eagles senior shortstop Branden Comia, who will play nest season the University of Illinois.
“Man, I’d take 10 of him,” Darlington said. “He is a good hitter.”
Miller’s performance aside, the momentum turned in the fourth inning when the Tigers pulled off a double steal, with junior Garret Cook swiped home on the play. Cook broke for the plate when Hampe attempted to gun down Gavin Doyle at second on a delayed steal attempt. The run extended North’s lead to 3-0, and they would score once more in the inning then three more in the fifth to essentially put the game out of reach.
“That was just a good athletic play by both of them,” Darlington said. “Gavin sees the ball hit the dirt – that’s our rule, take off for second. Garret sees the throw – that’s our other rule, once it clears the pitcher’s head we go – and it worked to perfection. I wish we could say we drew it up but we did not, it was just two good athletes making a play.”
Sandburg committed four errors, contributing to their worst-played game in some time.
“Tough one today,” Morsovillo said. “We’ve been playing great, got a great group of kids and they’ve been playing hard all season. Things didn’t work out for us today. We competed, they left everything out there, that’s all we can ask for.
“What are you going to do? It was one of those days. We didn’t play great defense. We’ve been playing very good defense, but you give a good team at this point extra opportunities, more than likely they’ll make you pay for it and they made us pay for it.”
Sandburg looked to mount a rally in the fifth and had Tenuta, one of their best hitters, at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, but Miller struck out the Eagles senior to end the threat.
“We strung together a couple hits and got a run, it was definitely a confidence booster, especially for myself,” said senior Andrew Tenison. “I know Tenuta’s been hitting, and just trying to pass the bat throughout the order, and I thought we could do it at that point, but unfortunately we couldn’t.”
The Eagles did not play from behind much this season, but Hampe recalled the win over Providence in the regional championship game, and believed he and his teammates could mount a similar rally against the Tigers.
“I was just thinking about the Providence game the whole time, knowing we could come back and knowing that we’ve been here before,” Hampe said. “I wasn’t nervous at all going into it. I figured we’d string some hits together like we always do, just this time it didn’t happen.”
Hampe expressed how proud he is of what the team accomplished this season.
“Looking back at it, since the beginning of the year we’ve all talked about how far we wanted to go, and then as the journey went we all talked about how proud we are of each other, how proud that we’ve stayed together as a team. There’s been disagreements here and there but we’ve all stayed together as a family.”
Comia was especially broken up after the loss to North.
“I’ve been here for four years, and every year we just seemed to get better and better,” he said. “This team by far… no offense to the other teams, but it was just a special team. I loved every single guy like he was my brother and we just fought. It’s going to be really hard to go.”