Catch a falling ball
Big defensive play secures Celtics’ win over Eagles
Providence Catholic turned last Wednesday’s Class 4A Andrew Sectional matchup with Sandburg into a real glove affair.
Specifically, Celtics outfielder Phil Kunsa did so with his circus grab of a sinking line drive. Instead of falling into the gap, Peter Paxinos’ hard-hit ball was speared by a diving Kunsa, who snuffed out an Eagles sixth-inning rally that had drawn them within a run.
That meant Sandburg was left to chase some more, and it never did catch up. Instead, Providence garnered an insurance marker to finalize a 5-3 victory that advanced it into last Saturday’s sectional final opposite Lincoln-Way North.
The Phoenix earned their championship-game berth by blanking Stagg 1-0 in the other semifinal last Wednesday. Lincoln-Way North’s one-run triumph was its third straight in the playoffs, following regional conquests of Shepard (3-2) and Marist (4-3).
While Kunsa’s defensive gem provided the obvious highlight, it mattered more because the Celtics (24-14) already had a lead to protect. They built most of that advantage in the third inning by plating four unearned runs off Eagles starter Sean Leland.
A Sandburg error and hit batsmen gave Providence two runners with nobody out. Leland fanned the next two men he faced, but the ubiquitous Kunsa extended the frame with an RBI single.
Before the side was finally retired, hits by Cam Galgano (two RBI) and pitcher Jake Godfrey (RBI) had ballooned the Celtics’ edge.
“I knew going into this game [that] runs were going to be [at] a premium,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “They have three phenomenal pitchers — we knew that coming in. [When] you face pitching like this, it’s not about how many hits you get, it’s when you get them.
“Granted, we scored most of our runs in the third inning, but we strung hits together and they were all timely two-out hits. You’ve got to do that to advance.”
Godfrey, who became a 21st-round selection in last week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, kept Eagles bats pretty well in check through four innings. Dan Santiago’s fielder’s choice ruined Godfrey’s shutout bid in the fifth, then Sandburg (24-9) put a legitimate scare into the Celtics during its next at-bat.
Jim Roche’s single, a hit batsman and walk to Alec Martinez filled the sacks. After Godfrey recorded two outs, Mike Jentel singled in a pair of teammates to shave the Eagles’ deficit to one. Kunsa’s catch came next.
“He probably ran a good 25 or 30 feet [to reach the ball],” Sandburg assistant coach Chuck Peters said. “There were probably about 700 people there and you heard the breath come out of them.
“You never know what would have happened, but that would have put us up by a run and it’s pretty tough to get momentum back that late.”
Spared having to climb out of a hole, the Celtics dug a slightly bigger one for the Eagles when Galgano and Godfrey slugged back-to-back triples off Matthias Dietz in the top of the seventh.
“It’s a tough way to go out,” Sandburg head coach Jim Morsovillo said. “We had one bad inning [and] their kid made a phenomenal catch. I’m proud of the kids coming back when we were chasing four [runs].”
“Give Godfrey credit,” Peters said. “He was in a lot of 2-0 counts and we were putting the ball in play, but he kept his composure.”
That was a bit tougher for Eagles players afterward, knowing their postseason journey had come to a halt.
“There’s nothing you’re going to be able to say that’s going to make them feel any better,” Peters said. “Only one team [in Class 4A] is happy at the end of the year.
“They tried their hardest and we were proud of them. We came a long way from when we struck out 14 times against [Lemont pitcher Jake] Letz a month ago.”
Lincoln-Way North 1
A key to the Chargers’ second-half resurgence this season was their ability to play relatively mistake-free ball during that span.
Things didn’t go completely haywire for Stagg last Wednesday, but the two errors it committed both happened in the fifth inning. And those miscues helped the Phoenix collect the contest’s only run.
As a result, the Chargers’ superb tournament run ended. Stagg pitcher Max Strus took a loss despite giving up just four hits and one free pass. Mound counterpart David Calderone yielded only two hits while fanning five and walking one.
Thanks to three Lincoln-Way North miscues, the Chargers (17-19) weren’t without baserunners. However, not until the seventh did they start off an inning by getting a man aboard.
Ethan Glaza’s double immediately put him in scoring position, but from there Calderon retired three consecutive batters with none of the balls leaving the infield. While some might question why Stagg coach Matt O’Neill didn’t have one of his batters lay down a sacrifice bunt and advance Glaza to third, he refused to second-guess his strategy.
“I didn’t feel bunting there was the right move because we had to try to get a big inning,” O’Neill said. “If the game went into extra innings, they’re pretty deep in pitching, so I didn’t know when we were getting another chance like that.”
Although his club finished with a sub-.500 ledger, O’Neill does “not think there’s a better 17-19 team out there.” And considering how much the Chargers evolved from the start of the 2014 season, his claim holds more than a little validity.
“I probably didn’t have the highest expectations going into the year because we had so many variables and we didn’t know what some guys could do,” O’Neill said. “But I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better group of seniors. In my mind, we won some games because of that.
“I know you can’t really teach someone to be a leader, but I hope this junior group learned some things about what it means to be a team.”
Providence Catholic 004 000 1 — 5
Sandburg 000 012 0 — 3
Providence Catholic 3B: Galgano, Godfrey. RBI: Galgano 2, Godfrey 2, Kunsa. WP: Godfrey.
Sandburg RBI: Jentel 2, Santiago. LP: Leland.
Stagg 000 000 0 — 0
Lincoln-Way North 000 010 x — 1
Stagg 2B: Glaza. LP: Strus.
Lincoln-Way North WP: Calderone.