SOUTH ELGIN – Wheaton North senior catcher Aaron Holland got exactly what he was looking for during his sixth-inning at-bat Saturday afternoon.
Holland lofted a towering solo home run on the first pitch he saw with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. It snapped a tie with Addison Trail and sent the Falcons to a 6-5 win in the Class 4A South Elgin Regional final.
“There were two outs and they (Blazers) had been throwing first-pitch strikes to me,” Holland said. “I was hunting that, trying to cut the plate in half and found something on the inner half. It was a hanging curveball.
“It was high, but I knew with the wind (blowing out to left) that it would catch up there for sure. I knew it was gone off the bat.”
Holland’s third home run of the season came at the most opportune time for the Falcons (17-18), who saw their 5-2 third-inning lead evaporate after the Blazers tied it with a three-run fifth.
“He’s the guy you want at the plate in that situation,” Falcons coach Dan Schoessling said of Holland. “Two outs — sixth inning — he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He had a good approach — getting his pitch and driving it.”
Addison Trail threatened in the top of the seventh, as Chris Bonilla led off with a single and courtesy runner Philip Sitkowski advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Brandon Caniglia (3-for-4) followed with a bloop single to left, and Falcons outfielder Casey Morrison retrieved the ball and threw a one-hopper to third baseman Jackson Moore, who applied the tag to the runner for the first out of the inning.
“We made a huge play there,” Schoessling said. “Casey made a big play in the last inning.”
Trailing 5-2, the 14th-seeded Blazers mounted a comeback in the top of the fifth. Bonilla led off with a walk before Caniglia’s double to left-center put runners on second and third with nobody out.
Junior Eddie Franczak (2-for-4) followed with a two-run single to cut the deficit to 5-4.
Falcons reliever Quinn Flanagan entered the game and promptly picked off the runner at first before Blazers sophomore Giovanni Long hit a solo home run to tie the score at 5-5.
“They put themselves in position to win the game,” Blazers coach Mike Kennedy said of his team.
Flanagan worked himself out of a fifth-inning jam with a double play and struck out the side in the sixth before leaving a Blazers runner stranded at first in the seventh.
“For Quinn to come in, settle down and take on the middle of their lineup in the last inning was huge,” said Schoessling, whose 11th-seeded Falcons advance to Thursday’s 4 p.m. sectional semifinals against York at Elgin Community College.
“I’m proud of these guys — they deserve it. We’ve had some rough spots during the season. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly. It’s playoff baseball and crazy things happen.”
It’s the Falcons’ first regional title since 2013.
“It has been a while,” said Schoessling. “We’ve been a little snakebit the last few years. We’ve had some real good teams. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m really happy for these guys.”