St. Francis opened the baseball season at 6-8 before winning 18 of its next 21.
People often ask the Spartans what got into them, and they struggle to put a finger on a catalyst.
If there must be a turning point that propelled the team toward Friday’s 3A state semifinal against Grayslake Central in Joliet, players concede it’s an ongoing, intangible one.
A pitching staff that praises the technical play of its defense doesn’t try to be perfect, and the Spartans seem to squeeze out just enough runs.
“Once we started going, it was going to be real tough for us to slow down,” senior left-hander Andrew Brundage said. “We haven’t slowed down, obviously, and I don’t see us slowing down in the future.”
St. Francis still might lobby its lineup for some breathing room. This is the program’s first trip to state, after all.
The Spartans won the Sycamore Sectional by a combined score of 3-1. They have scored just 19 runs in five postseason games, including outbursts of six runs in their regional opener against Plano and seven runs in Monday’s Rock Island Supersectional against Metamora.
A trio of one-run wins against Kaneland, Burlington Central and Sycamore were sandwiched in between, with Brundage, a former starter, tasked with getting the final outs after right-handers Jason Sullivan (8-1, 1.75 ERA) and Jack Petrando (6-1, 1.83) set the tone.
“Jack and Jason have been incredible with going as far as they can in games, and then Andrew has just got the proper mindset and mentality,” catcher Brett Jungles said. “He doesn’t worry about much, doesn’t have much emotion and has just been getting the job done.”
St. Francis shored up its calling cards in the final week of the regular season after successive losses to Oswego East (7-2) and Marmion (8-3). The corner infield play of third baseman Tim Zettinger and first baseman Josh Croci has been especially sound.
Zettinger shifts to shortstop when Sullivan pitches.
Jungles, a veteran of four postseasons – two as a regular – calls this Spartans team the most talented in bringing defense to match pitching.
“I think all nine of us out there want the ball hit to us and want to make a play,” he said. “When we’re given an opportunity, we’re just stepping up, focusing and making plays to get out of each inning.”
That’s worked so far, as the offense lurks with enough speed and opportunistic bats.
Petrando, an outfielder when he’s not pitching, leads the team with a .370 average (34 for 92) and two home runs. Croci, who’s batting .320, is the RBI leader with 25. Alex Alcantara (.348), Sullivan (.317) and Jungles (.308) also are hitting more than .300.
Ultimately, that’s added up, especially in the past two weeks.
“We’re not surprised to be here at all,” Petrando said. “We knew we could do it. We don’t want to be done, that’s what’s great about it. We know we can do it and we don’t want to be done, and that’s why we’re at state right now.”
IHSA Class 3A Baseball State Finals
Friday's semifinals at Silver Cross Field in Joliet
St. Francis (24-11) vs. Grayslake Central (26-13), 10 a.m.
Joliet Catholic (25-14) vs. Mount Vernon (31-8-1), noon
Third-place game at 9 a.m. Saturday; championship game 11:30 a.m. Saturday
Of note: St. Francis coach Rich Janor, rounding out his 10th season, is 190-145 at the school. ... Kyle Clark and Ryan Fontana hit Grayslake Central's only home runs this season. ... Grayslake Central placed third in 3A in its only other state appearance in 2009. Joliet Catholic is there for the fourth time since 2008, while Mount Vernon makes its third all-time appearance.