On the warmest day of the year so far, the Sandburg Eagles and Lincoln-Way East Griffins met for the third time on the diamond this season. This time it was for a sectional title and a trip to Monday's Class 4A supersectional game at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood.
On paper, the matchup favored the Eagles—heavily. The Eagles swept the two regular-season meetings, outscoring the Griffins by a combined count of 24-7.
But on Saturday, it was the Griffins who swung the big bats. Lincoln-Way East belted three home runs to overpower Sandburg 10-4 and claim the Class 4A Sandburg Sectional championship.
The Griffins’ first homer came in the bottom of the first. With a run already on the board thanks to an RBI double by Alec Ornelas (2-for-3, walk, double, home run, 3 RBIs, 2 runs), Matt Rosenberger (2-for-4, single, home run, 2 RBIs, 2 runs) launched a drive over the wall in right-center to give the Griffins an early 3-0 lead.
The Eagles (26-8), who were the "visitors" in their own yard because of seeding, put up a 4-spot in the top of the second, aided by a three-run home run by Nick Bates (2-for-4, single, home run, 3 RBIs) to right-center. The Eagles got some help from a pair of Griffin errors in the inning.
The Grifins’ Dan Huizinga (3-f0r-4, 2 RBIs) delivered what proved to be the game-winning blast with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth. Some insurance came in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to two-run single from Chris Scott and a two-run home run from Ornelas.
"I was just waiting for my pitch. I fouled a few off with two strikes and then he gave me another (fastball) and I was able to take it to right," Huizinga said of his home run.
The Lincoln-Way East defense turned two double plays behind winning pitcher Brandon Bollman. According to Griffins coach Paul Babcock, Bollman was very recently cleared by doctors after a bout with mononucleosis. Babcock was expecting only two innings out of Bollman, but instead, the coach got six-plus with six strikeouts, eight hits, one earned run and just two walks from his winning pitcher.
"You have to like our heart,” Babcock said. “We talk about winning innings all the time. We won the first inning, they came right back and punched us in the mouth with four, but I told them, 'This one is going to the judges. The heavyweight is going to be the one that wins the fight.’’’
The game marked not only the end of the season for Sandburg (26-8), but also the end of Sandburg coach Doug Sutor's lengthy career.
"Five-hundred-seventy-one wins later, it's over,” Sutor said. “The only guy who is happy at the end of the year is the coach who wins the state championship.
“It would have been nice to get to a supersectional game, but Lincoln-Way played a great game. They outpitched us, they out-hit us. They were the better team today.”
The Griffins (25-11) move on to face the Mount Carmel Caravan at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood on Monday at 7 p.m., to battle for a berth in Friday’s state semifinals. The state title game will be played at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Saturday, June 11, at around 5 p.m.