SYCAMORE – The St. Francis baseball team needed nine innings and three pitchers to edge Burlington Central, 2-1, in Wednesday’s first semifinal game of the 3A Sycamore Sectional.
The Spartans will face the winner of today’s semifinal between Sycamore and Rockford East for the sectional title on Saturday.
Jack Petrando, who took over pitching from St. Francis starter Jason Sullivan in the eighth, crossed the plate with the winning run in the top of the ninth. He scored all the way from second base on a Tim Zettinger single to right against the Rockets’ Danny Gerke.
“[Gerke] threw me the first pitch and I swung and missed it,” said Zettinger. “He gave me another one – a high fastball – and I put it into right field.”
“At this level, nothing comes easy, so we were playing for one run right there,” added St. Francis coach Rich Janor.
Petrando started the inning with a single that bounced over Central third baseman Cody Schuver. Sullivan, who stayed in the game at shortstop, hit into what appeared to be a double play. The Spartans got new life when the Rockets were unable to get either Petrando or Sullivan out.
The Rockets (16-12) threatened to tie the game back up in the bottom of the ninth. Petrando hit two of the first three batters he faced in the frame.
Andrew Brundage replaced Petrando on the hill. Blake Alexander, the first batter he faced, reached first on an error. Brundage wiggled out of the jam by retiring the next two Central batters to end the game.
“I’m going to start calling [Brundage] Houdini,” Janor said. “He got us out of another jam just like he did the other day [against host Kaneland in the regional final].”
Sullivan gave up one run, seven hits and no walks in seven innings for the 22-11 Spartans.
“He really gutted it out,” Janor said. “ We didn’t want to leave him in there any longer than we did, so we brought in Jack.”
Gerke (6-4), who went the distance for the Rockets, took the loss. He scattered seven hits and gave up one walk. The junior right-hander was stingy with his pitching. In the second inning, he retired the side on four pitches.
“It looked like runs were going to be at a premium from the first,” Central coach Kyle Nelson said. “I knew Danny was going to throw well early in the game. I could tell he had his good stuff. Both guys were throwing the ball well.”
Petrando also scored the Spartans’ first run in the fourth inning. He opened the frame with a single, advanced to second on Sullivan’s sacrifice bunt and took third on Josh Croci’s infield single. He scored on a double steal, crossing the plate while the Rockets trapped Croci in a rundown.
“All day we’re trying to get on base and make things happen,” Petrando said. “We did a nice third-and-first play and we stole a run there.”
Central tied the game in the bottom of the fourth. Michael Scott plated the run on a Josh Lung double, the only extra-base hit of the game.
Petrando (5-1) was credited with the win and Brundage earned the save.