Baseball: Oak Park-River Forest rallies to top New Trier
Oak Park pitcher Zach Weigel fires a pitch during the Evanston baseball IHSA 4A sectional semifinal on Friday, June 1, 2012 in Evanston. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 5, 2012 2:46PM
Oak Park-River Forest came back from a seven-run deficit to stun New Trier, 8-7, on Nick Kowalczuk’s walk-off RBI single in the semifinals of the Class 4A Evanston Sectional Friday.
With one out and Matt McCormack on first after a single to open the sixth, the Huskies put up a five-spot highlighted by a three-run home run by Jack Picchiotti (2-for-4, intentional walk) and a run-scoring triple by Alex Rice to pull OPRF within 7-5 off New Trier southpaw starter Nick Hedge (6 innings pitched, 5 runs, 9 hits, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts), who cruised through the first five innings.
The momentum was still with the Huskies in the bottom of the seventh when McCormack (2-for-3, 2 runs) led off with single, Dan Shinsako walked reliever Joe McKune smacked his first hit of the season to drive in a run and Jack Belcaster hit one up the middle to drive in Shinsako. After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Picchiotti, Kowalczuk hit a ground ball toward right that eluded Trevians second baseman Max Thoma and score McKune to complete the miraculous comeback.
McKune, who went the distance to beat Evanston 2-1 for the regional title Saturday, held the Trevians scoreless in 4 1/3 innings of work to earn the victory, retiring the last 11 New Trier batters allowing just one hit and a walk while striking out four.
Even OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter couldn’t quite believe what he had just witnessed.
“I don’t know what to say,” said a smiling Ledbetter. “I got quality at-bats from Joe McKune (single, walk, 2 runs) and he has never batted. He has never hit while on the varsity and we couldn’t sub for him because he was pitching too well. We played uptight at the beginning. I looked up at the scoreboard after the first three innings and I saw they had seven runs on just three hits and we had four errors. They can’t do that tomorrow against Maine South.”
“But this is the type of momentum you ride. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the guys, the way they battled. Guys who were 0-for-2 coming up with bunt base hits, moving runners along. I’ve never seen us come back from being down so many runs before, especially in that fashion — bloop hit, smoked ball, home run, bunt hit, move a guy over, passed ball. I think it had almost every baseball play imaginable in it.”
New Trier (26-12) took advantage of some shaky defense by the Huskies (27-9-1) in the early innings that helped them score four runs in the first inning, two in the second and one in the third. OPRF starting pitcher Zach Weigel also struggled early with his control as he walked in a run and hit a batter to force in another after an error, a hit and another base on balls before he recorded an out.
After New Trier’s Josh Perlmutter (2 runs, RBI) reached on an error with two outs in the second, Chris Hall (2-for-4, 3 RBI, 2 runs) made the Huskies pay when he sent one flying into the trees beyond the 20-foot high Blue Monster in left field.
“Our bats went to sleep a little bit and their pitcher (McKune) did a good job in relief,” New Trier head coach Mike Napoleon said. “I think Nick (Hedge) got a little tired to be honest, and their hitters, especially at the lower part of the order really battled, forcing him to throw extra pitches, drawing some walks, then they have their good hitters coming up. When something like that happens you know it’s eventually going to come back and bite you. That five-spot in the sixth really gave them the momentum and we went down quietly in the seventh and they kept it going.”