MAPLE PARK – The Kaneland baseball program has earned many honors over the years, including an IHSA Class 3A state title in 2011, but had never won a regional championship on its own field.
The Knights had hoped to change that situation on Saturday when they hosted St. Francis in a regional title game.
The Spartans, with a 3-2 come-from-behind win, spoiled Kanland’s attempt to finally win a trophy on its own diamond. St. Francis, the top seed in the regional, advances to the Sycamore Sectional and will face Burlington Central in a Wednesday semifinal.
The Spartans (21-11) won the game in spite of a near perfect effort by Kaneland pitcher John Hopkins. The senior righthander, who took the loss, faced the minimum number of batters in five of the six innings he pitched.
“John pitched a heck of game, I couldn’t ask anything more of him,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said.
“Both teams had their inning,” St. Francis coach Rich Janor said. “Fortunately, our inning was a three- run inning and theirs was a two-run inning.”
Kaneland, the visitors because of its lower seed, jumped out to 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
Dan Miller scored the Knights' first run on a Joe Komel infield single. Matt Limbrunner plated the second run on catcher Josh Cohrs' fielder’s choice.
“I knew we could play better than that and we finished the game strong,” said St. Francis starting pitcher Jack Petrando, who earned the win. “My teammates did great all day helping me out.”
Petrando settled down and allow only two baserunners in the next four innings.
The Spartans, who went down in order in the first three innings, reached Hopkins for three straight singles in the fourth to load the bases.
“Our leadoff hitter (Alex Alcantara) knew he needed start the momentum. He got himself on and proved the spark," Janor said. "We kind of carried it from there.”
The first two singles were clean hits, the third skimmed off the glove of Ty Carlson, Kaneland’s third baseman, and rolled into foul territory.
Hopkins hit shortstop Jason Sullivan on the leg to force in Alcantara with the first St. Francis run.
Josh Croci followed with a grounder to Carlson. He stepped on the bag to force the Spartans' TJ Jackson, and then threw home in an effort to put out Brett Jungles. The throw got away from Cohrs, allowing Jungles to score.
Tim Zettinger then hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play. The Knights forced Croci at second, but Zettinger beat the throw at first, allowing Sullivan to cross the plate with the third run.
“It’s a game of inches and you know you are an inch away from catching a line drive instead of glancing off a glove or turning a double play there,” Aversa said. “They got a big inning out of it, and that’s the game of baseball.”
Kaneland (13-18) threatened in the sixth and seventh innings.
The Knights loaded the bases in the sixth on two walks and an error. Petrando got out the jam when he induced Carlson to hit a soft liner to Sullivan to end the inning.
After Petrando walked Curtis Thorson to start Kaneland’s seventh inning, Andrew Brundage took over on the mound. While he struck out the next two batters, Thorson advanced to third on a stolen base and a passed ball. He was not able to tie the game, though, as Miller grounded out to Sullivan to end the game.
“We needed to respond and we couldn’t get that one run across,” Aversa said.
Sullivan said he was nervous on the final play because of an earlier error he committed that helped Kaneland load the bases in the sixth inning.
“I had to stay focused and get my head down and make the play," he said.