MOLINE – Defense and timely hitting propelled the St. Francis baseball team to the IHSA State Tournament.
The Spartans (24-11) won the 3A Rock Island Super-sectional 7-3 over Metamora (32-6), taking advantage of five Redbird errors to erase a 2-0 deficit and ensure the school’s first baseball trophy.
St. Francis, which scored just three runs in its two sectional games, was in the almost unfamiliar position of having a cushion after Josh Croci doubled with the bases loaded to give the Spartans their first lead of the game.
The bases loaded after Andrew Brundage singled to start the second frame and both Chris Smith and Jack Ciombor laid down sacrifice bunts that were fumbled.
“Our bats had been struggling but we worked on it in practice and had better approaches today,” Croci said. “I knew the pitcher was a freshman and would be a little rattled with the bases loaded so I was just sitting fastball and he came inside.”
Croci drilled Metamora freshman pitcher Geremy Guerrero’s fastball to the gap and the air went out of the Redbirds. Guerrero had been 9-0 coming into the contest.
Metamora couldn’t duplicate Croci’s act, as the Redbirds stranded 11 total runners on base, nine of them in scoring position.
Jack Petrando set the table a couple times, going 2 for 3 with a pair of RBI singles, while Brett Jungles also collected a pair of hits.
“We pride ourselves on our pitching and defense,” St. Francis coach Rich Janor said. “We’ve been down before so it wasn’t really panic mode after giving up those two runs in the first.”
On the mound Jason Sullivan pitched beautifully. Although the sophomore didn’t strike out a Redbird, he also didn’t give up an earned run after the first, scattering 11 hits and getting solid glovework behind him.
“In my mind, we have the best defense in the state,” Sullivan said. “I just had to keep my poise and be confident and let the guys behind me do the work.”
Sullivan loaded the bases full of redbirds in the seventh, but Brundage came in to relieve him and was perfect again.
It was the fourth straight game Brundage has come on in relief and slammed the door.
The senior lefty got the next three batters out without incident to secure the Spartans a date Friday in the state semifinals.
St. Francis will take on Grayslake Central in the semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday morning in Joliet at Silver Cross Field.