Tigers bow to Mt. Carmel in extra innings

By Mike Sandrolini

Sports Reporter

Plainfield North kept the faith during its Class 4A supersectional showdown at Standard Bank Stadium with Mt. Carmel last week despite trailing 5-1 going into the bottom of the sixth and being limited to two hits over that span by Caravan sophomore right-hander Cameron Hupe.

“We never give up,” said senior pitcher Matt Vanek, who entered the game later and pitched Plainfield North to the sectional title over Downers South on June 6. “We have faith in each other; we’ve done it all year. I trust every one of them. Our motto is (to) not lose when we’re down. I thought we could come back.”

The Tigers did just that, picking up three runs in the sixth to make it 5-4. In the bottom of the seventh, senior catcher Jason Pacanowski belted a dramatic, one-out solo homer down the right-field line to knot up the game at 5-5 and send it into extra innings.

“We thought we were going to win, to be honest,” said senior first baseman Matthew Babuskow. “We were ecstatic.”

But the Caravan squelched any hopes the Tigers had of making their first-ever trip to the state tournament after sending 11 batters to the plate in the eighth and tallying six runs. The eventual state runner-up ended up winning the matchup 11-6—a game that was postponed a day after the two teams were rained out of their scheduled June 8 contest.

“I’m proud of them,” said coach John Darlington, whose club finished 30-8 and made school history by becoming the first Plainfield North baseball team to win a sectional championship. “We could have easily folded the tent, but we kept battling and our guys took good cuts. But you don’t win many games with six hits. It is what it is. I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win it there in the seven and we just didn’t come through.”

Senior shortstop Zach Jarosz singled after Pacanowski’s homer, but a flyout and a groundout left him stranded.

“We had a guy at first and just couldn’t get a couple of more hits,” Darlington said. “That’s baseball; they made two nice catches in the outfield and it changed the one inning (the sixth inning). They made the plays when they had to. I don’t think we played defensively as well as we should of, but it is what it is at this point.”

Bryan VanDuser (hit by pitch) and Jake Dunham (walk) got on base to open the sixth. But Caravan center fielder Josh Skowers came up with one of those catches to which Darlington was referring—a diving grab of a deep drive by junior right fielder Josh Garner, whose RBI single in the first inning provided Plainfield North with its only lead of the game (1-0).

However, senior left-hander Kyle Strepek, who pitched five strong innings, drove one over Skowers’ head for a triple to plate Van Duser and Dunham. Strepek eventually raced home on a wild pitch, enabling the Tigers to pull within a run at 5-4.

The Caravan took a 2-1 lead in the third and then increased their margin to 3-1 on a solo homer by freshman Alek Thomas, who tomahawked a shot that cleared the 375-foot sign in right-center.

“I’m happy that we continued to battle and fight,” Darlington said. “Our seniors had good at-bats and we’ve been hoping that they would play well down the stretch. How can you get mad at a kid like Kyle Strepek? In the bottom of the eighth, he hits a ground ball and beats it to first. He’s playing with everything he’s got.”

Hupe retired 11 straight Plainfield North batters from the second inning into the sixth.

“I know he fooled me, but this team has battled all season, especially in the postseason and we’re a late-inning team, too,” Babuskow said. “One hit will get it started. They made some nice plays.”

“Our seniors have been great,” said Darlington, who loses Babuskow, Strepek, Jarosz, Vanek, VanDuser, Pacanowski and third baseman Richard Bryza to graduation. “Early in the year we were hesitant what we were going to do with some of them. A kid like Matt Babuskow, wow, he just shows up every day and wants to be a baseball player. He’s not the most gifted athlete we have, but he tries to do everything we want him to do. He plays the way we want him to play. He takes pride in it; he wants to be good.

“I’m not disappointed. We’re mad that we lost, but it’s something that we can learn from and hopefully we can get back and get another shot at it.”

“It was a good season,” Vanek said. “These guys are my brothers; I love ’em. It was a senior-led team this year. Our seniors really carried us, and it was the first time in school history (winning the sectional and getting to supersectionals) so that was pretty cool.”

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