JOLIET – When senior right-hander Brady Miller is on the mound, the Plainfield North baseball team enters any game brimming with confidence.
When the Tigers are hitting the ball all over the lot and are able to mix in their aggressive baserunning, you get a team that absolutely belongs in a state championship game.
North earned a berth in Saturday’s Class 4A title game against Huntley with Friday night’s 7-3 victory over Sandburg in the last semifinal at Joliet Route 66 Stadium.
Miller worked his way through a second-inning rough patch and worked 62/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out nine. He exited one out short of a complete game because he had reached the pitch-count limit of 115.
“This is what we play for, this is what we began practice for,” Miller said. “If you’re not pumped for this game, I don’t know what you can get pumped for.
“Against [the Eagles’] lineup, I knew I had to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. That’s something I didn’t always do my last two outings.”
“Sandburg is such a good-hitting team,” North coach John Darlington said. “For Brady to do what he did was outstanding.”
The North offense, meanwhile, began to cook in the bottom of the third inning. Sean Tillmon singled, Ryan Summers laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Greg Budig singled to put runners on first and third. Garret Cook’s hustle beat out a bouncer that the Sandburg pitcher bobbled for an error to load the bases, and Gavin Doyle delivered a two-run single for a 2-0 lead.
Then on a double steal, Doyle swiped second, and on the return throw home, Cook dove across the plate with the third run of the inning for a 3-0 lead.
“To be honest, I’m not sure what happened there,” Cook said.
“It was just a good, athletic play on both guys’ part,” Darlington said. “I wish I could say we drew that up, but we didn’t.”
The Tigers picked up another run in the fourth on Summers’ two-out, RBI single.
Miller allowed three straight singles after two were out in the top of the fifth as Sandburg scored a run to make it 4-1. But in the bottom of the fifth, North put it away with a three-spot.
An error, Cam Kissel’s single and a walk filled the bases. A wild pitch with two outs plated one run and Tillmon delivered a two-run single to right to make it 7-1.
“It is unbelievable how many big hits Sean has gotten,” Darlington said of Tillmon.
Tillmon also has flashed the leather at third base during the season, and he did that again Friday.
“He has made outstanding plays,” Darlington said. “He made a backhand play tonight, and then he charged the ball and made an outstanding play for the last out.”
Tillmon’s story is special – he was cut from the team as a junior, and came close to not making the team this spring.
“After I got cut last year, I just worked my butt off to get better,” he said.
The pieces all have come together for the Tigers.
“We hit it well tonight, pitched it well,” Darlington said. “If we keep hitting, we have a good shot at going a long way. We’ve been getting two-out hits.”
Greg Budig, Cook, Doyle and Tillmon all finished with two of North’s 10 hits. Budig had a double.
Doyle also had an excellent game at shortstop, including starting a 6-3 double play in the sixth inning.
Sandburg scored its final runs in the seventh after Miller exited as Ryan Hampe, the first batter to face reliever Keegan Bates, ripped an RBI double and then scored on Andrew Tenison’s single. Hampe finished with three of the Eagles’ nine hits.