ELGIN – The magic continues.
After rallying late in both of their own Class 1A regional games just to get to Wednesday’s Harvest Christian Sectional semifinal against Chicago Hope Academy, the Marquette Crusaders showed they still have a little magic left.
Falling behind Hope 3-0 in the top of the first inning, the Cru came back for a 4-3 victory on Sam Mitre’s deep single to center with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh.
Winning pitcher Logan Nelson was raked for five base hits and three runs in the first, but then settled down and used his slider to limit the Eagles to one hit over the final six innings while he and his teammates picked away with single runs in the first, third, fifth and seventh to advance to Saturday’s 1 p.m championship game.
There they will face the winner of the Wednesday’s rain-delayed matchup between Putnam County and host Harvest Christian. That game will be played at 2 p.m. Thursday.
And they’re alive because of Nelson’s fortitude after a rough start.
“They were smoking the ball off me. All the pitches I had, I hit spots, and they hit them,” Nelson said. “Then I started with my slider, and right in the middle of the game it was working for me. My first-pitch slider put me up in the count a lot, and there were some batters I threw it to them three times in a row.
“I knew if I could hold them there, I knew my guys would help me out.”
The Eagles used ambush tactics in the first, attacking Nelson’s first-pitch fastballs for four of their five hits. Jorge Matos and Dominic Bonilla started things with singles, then one out later Davian Villalobos plated the first run with a sacrifice fly to center. Tiaga Deloney doubled in a run before a single to center by Jaydin Martinez made it 3-0 Hope Academy.
Undaunted, the Cru bounced back with a run in their half off starting pitcher Martinez on a double by Mitre and an RBI single by Brady Ewers. Nelson, who slammed the ball hard in all four of his at-bats, helped himself with a long home run to right field to cut the deficit to a single run.
Marquette knotted the score on a wild play in the fifth. With two outs, Nelson reached on an error and stole second just before Mitre walked. With Ewers at the plate, reliever Roberto Rey Jr. spun around and fired a quick pick-off throw to first that seemed to have caught pinch runner Gabe Almeda leaning, but the peg was far over the head of first baseman Villalobos, allowing Nelson to score the tying run.
With Nelson dealing – he allowed only a leadoff double to Villalobos in the third, then retired 14 straight Eagles before an error with two outs in the top of the seventh – it was magic time again in the home half.
Freshman Keaton Davis, as he did in the winning rally against St. Bede in the regional, led off with a clean single to left. Julian Alexander walked, and Nelson lined a single to right to load the bags for Mitre, who worked the count to 3-2 before blasting a long drive over the head of center fielder Jamil Gregory for the game-winner.
“No. 1, you have to give Chicago Hope credit,” Marquette coach Todd Hopkins said. “They came out and just hit shot after shot, and you look at the board and all of the sudden it’s 3-0 with a guy on third, but Logan got out of it. … Logan was dealing. The second through the seventh, he was awesome and showed a lot of guts doing it. After that first inning, he bounced back, didn’t hang his head, he adjusted.
“It was important that we got that one run in the first … but the biggest run of the game was the one in the fifth that tied it. All of the sudden, the kids relaxed more, and in the seventh Davis got us started, Mitre got a big hit, and we live to play another day.
“We know we have a giant task in front of us in Putnam County [if the Panthers win their semifinal], the best team in our area, hands down. We’re just gonna try our best to keep it close.”