High school baseball: Prairie Ridge edges St. Francis, headed to Final Four

SCHAUMBURG – Prairie Ridge pitcher Parker Swanson could not bear to watch the top of the seventh inning as the Wolves batted against St. Francis.

The senior righthander knew what he was about to be facing, the Spartans’ 2-3-4 hitters, with a one-run lead and a trip to the Class 3A State Tournament semifinals on the line.

“I was freaking out to be honest,” Swanson said. “I had my eyes closed that whole top of the seventh inning.”

On the mound was a different story.

Swanson threw 13 pitches – 10 of which were strikes – to fan all three batters and close the Wolves’ 5-4 victory Monday at the Schaumburg Supersectional at Wintrust Field. Prairie Ridge (18-13) will play Washington at 10 a.m. Thursday back at Wintrust Field. The Panthers beat Geneseo, 7-2, in the Geneseo Supersectional on Monday.

After Swanson struck out St. Francis’ TJ McMillen for the final out he tossed his glove in the air and screamed at catcher Owen Brock, who rushed the mound. A few seconds later the rest of the Wolves created a dogpile in front of home plate.

A team that was .500 to start the postseason now is in the Final Four and has won three consecutive one-run games.

“These one-run games are going to give me a heart attack,” Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro said. “Seriously. Parker came in and filled it up. He’s our No. 2 starter. He’s really good as a closer. We felt he’d be pretty good.”

Both starters, Prairie Ridge senior Matt Porter and St. Francis’ Rocco Tenuta, had trouble early before settling in to each keep their teams in the game. Tenuta allowed three in the first, then Porter struggled through a 33-pitch second inning in which the Spartans (18-11) tied the score at 3.

“That’s probably why they were pitching that game,” Spartans coach Tom Ciombor said. “They’re both competitors. Their lefty came right at us. He limited our running game with his [pickoff] move. It could have gone either way. It was a well-played game.”

Tenuta desperately wanted to do the job for St. Francis’ seniors.

“At the beginning, I was nervous,” Tenuta said. “I realized that I’ve done this before, it’s just another baseball game. I know what I’m doing. It calmed me down. I locked in.”

Prairie Ridge leadoff man Will Komar reached base all four times he batted and scored three times. He walked to lead off the game and scored on Alex Milone’s double. Milone scored on a wild pitch, then Nathan Koteras also doubled and scored on a stolen base and scoring error.

Prairie Ridge has scored 19 first-inning runs in its five postseason wins.

“Our coaches told us to stick with what we’ve been doing,” Komar said. “We did the same thing today.”

Porter walked one batter and hit two in the second, both with the bases loaded. Over the next four innings, he held the Spartans to one run. Porter was at 99 pitches to start the sixth, but the Wolves squeezed out one more inning and Porter was perfect.

Pecoraro said pitching coach Mark Skonieczny made the decision to send Porter out for one more inning. The IHSA’s pitch-count rules extend from 105 in the regular season to 115 in the postseason.

“I wanted [the sixth] more than anything,” Porter said. “I wanted to do it for my teammates. They came to me [after the second] and said, ‘We have your back, you go out there and do what you do. We’re going to back you up.’ "

Pecoraro offered some encouraging words for his ace starter as well.

“That [second inning] was the worst I’ve seen him,” Pecoraro said. “I told him, ‘What’s happened, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just focus on what’s coming ahead. Keep battling, focus on what’s next.’ He settled in nicely.”

Prairie Ridge 5, St. Francis 4

Prairie Ridge 301 010 0 – 5 6 0

St. Francis 120 010 0 – 4 6 1

WP: Matt Porter (6IP, 4R, rER, 3BB, 6K). Save: Parker Swanson (1IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 3K). LP: Rocco Renuta (7IP, 6H, 5R, 4ER, 3BB, 6K).

Top hitters–Prairie Ridge: Will Komar 2-2 (3R, 2B, SB), Alex Milone 2-2 (2B, RBI, SB, R), Brock 1-3 (RBI), Nathan Koteras 1-3 (2B, SB, R). St. Francis: Max McCullum 1-3 (3B, RBI, R), TJ McMIllen 1-3 (2B, RBI), Tenuta 1-3 (RBI), Daniel Maller 1-3 (2B, R).