JOLIET – Plainfield North baseball coach John Darlington admitted, “I don’t really know how we did it.”
Yet when you win a state championship, rest assured, yours was the better team on this glorious day.
The Tigers entered the top of the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead, then had to hold on for dear life Saturday to escape with a 4-3 victory over Huntley in a thrilling Class 4A state final at Joliet Route 66 Stadium.
That marks the first team state title in any sport for North (29-7-1) and the second in Plainfield district history. The South 2010 boys bowling team captured the other.
Brady Miller’s solo home run to right-center field in the bottom of the sixth inning made the score 4-1. But instead of insurance, that blast wound up being the difference because Huntley (33-7) was not about to go away quietly.
The Red Raiders’ Jordan Goldstein was hit by a pitch to open the seventh, and Kamrin Hoffmann doubled down the right-field line. After center fielder Cam Kissel ran down Matt Rodriguez’s long sacrifice fly, Hunter Rumachik knocked in a run with an infield single.
North senior right-hander Nick Cerrato, who had relieved lefty Keegan Bates with one out in the third inning, exited, and sophomore right-hander Eben Heine entered. He retired A.J. Henkle on a fly to right for the second out.
Heine appeared to record the final out on A.J. Model’s grounder to first. In fact, fireworks exploded, signifying a North state championship. However, the ball was fouled off Model’s leg.
Heine then broke off a slider, Model swung and missed and the dogpile of exuberant Tigers formed in the center of the diamond.
“This was unreal. This is what you dream of,” Heine said. “I’m just glad Coach [Darlington] trusted me to finish it out.
“As soon Nick [Cerrato] hit the first guy, I got a little nervous. Then when the kid hit the double, I thought, ‘Uh, oh.’ But coach trusted me. I’m proud of myself that I was able to do it.”
The early fireworks display did not bother Heine. “I think it really calmed me down,” he said.
Bates got the start after notching the final out in Friday’s semifinal win over Sandburg. He went 2 1/3 innings, allowing three hits, two walks and one run. Cerrato pitched four innings for the victory, yielding seven hits and the two seventh-inning runs.
“All three of our pitchers battled their butts off,” Darlington said. “They made the pitches they needed to.” And, they got some help from their defense.
Miller was in left field after pitching the semifinal victory, and he made two huge catches. In the third inning, he caught up to a ball hit over his head at the warning track for the final out with two runners on. Then in the sixth with a man on and nobody out, he dove to catch a line drive down the line.
“I kind of turned the wrong way at first on that one at the wall,” Miller said. “It was slicing. On the other one, I didn’t get the best jump, but I went all out for it.”
“Brady made a great catch down the line,” Darlington said.
North jumped ahead, 2-0, in the second when Miller was hit by a pitch, Cam Kissel doubled, Cal Cangilla singled home a run and Chris Miller drove one in with a fielder’s choice.
Huntley scored once in the second and threatened to get more, but Miller’s catch in deep left ended the threat.
Sean Tillmon doubled for North in the fifth and scored on Garret Cook’s two-out single for a 3-1 lead before Brady Miller unloaded in the sixth off Huntley right-hander Nick Lexner. Kissel followed with a single to knock out Lexner.
“The count was 3-1 and I didn’t want to miss it,” Miller said. “I was looking fastball all the way.”
“The way this turned out is incredible,” Kissel said. “There is nothing like this. I’ve never been in a game so intense.”