SCHAUMBURG – Prairie Ridge looked like there was no way it would be denied a state baseball championship Thursday night.
For three innings, the Wolves scored at will against Springfield, which made its first pitching change four batters into the game and three more by early in the third.
Prairie Ridge, which had thrilled its fans with four consecutive one-run wins to reach the Class 3A state championship game, was rolling.
Finally, the Senators found someone to slow the Wolves down, 6-foot-5 senior Richie Snider, whose 4.96 ERA was highest on Springfield’s staff.
That didn’t matter. Snider was brilliant, striking out nine over five innings as the Senators beat Prairie Ridge, 8-7, at Wintrust Field for their first state baseball title in school history.
“Holy cow! He had to be touching 90,” Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said. “I don’t know where he was at (in miles per hour), but he sure made a difference when they brought him in. I thought we started to figure him out, but it was a little late.”
Prairie Ridge (19-14) scored three times in the first, three more in the second and once in the third for a 7-2 lead. The Senators (31-5) cut it to 7-4 in the top of the fourth inning, but it was still uncertain if they could stop Prairie Ridge.
“(Snider) had a good two-pitch mix,” said Prairie Ridge center fielder Matt Porter, who tripled in two runs and also scored in the first. “That curveball and fastball worked very well together. Their first four guys they had out of the pen were throwing 75, 80, and then you come in with that guy.”
Springfield coach James Steinwart said Snider had moments when he was very good, but was inconsistent through the season. He issued 21 walks and allowed 31 hits in 24 innings. Steinwart said his assistant coaches Brett Toemper and Tim Elliott kept working with Snider and assured the coach that the big righthander could make a difference.
“For him to come in when it matters most and we don’t have anybody stopping anybody, that’s beyond what happens in normal game situations,” Steinwart said. “It kind of took some pressure off. You didn’t feel like you had to score four runs every inning. He was kind of in shutdown mode.”
Prairie Ridge led, 3-0, heading into the second when Nos. 8 and 9 hitters Erik Gibson and Tyler Vasey, got things started with a bloop single and a ringing triple. The Wolves led, 7-2, after three innings and still were up, 7-4, heading into the fifth.
The Senators put up four in the fifth, with Ben Hartl’s three-RBI triple down the right-field line as the big blow.
Jake Larson came in for the final two outs of that inning and pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings to give the Wolves a shot.
Prairie Ridge had a chance to tie in the fifth when Nathan Koteras was thrown out at home, trying to score from second on Vasey’s single.
Pecoraro played it aggressively again in the sixth when he had courtesy runner Zach Bentsen try to steal home, but Bentsen was out on a close play.
“We’re scratching, clawing, trying to get a run,” Pecoraro said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to take a chance.”
Prairie Ridge finished fourth in the Fox Valley Conference and was .500 heading into the postseason, but played its best baseball at the most opportune time.
“All I can say is wow,” shortstop Alex Milone said. “One-run games were our specialty. It was a heck of a last ride with my seniors. I’ll never do anything this fun again.”
Milone left the championship game in the sixth inning with a left shoulder injury. He separated that joint in the 4-3 semifinal win against Washington earlier Thursday and popped it back in to keep playing.
“It’s the most pain I ever felt in a baseball game,” he said. “There were times when I could hardly grip my bat. It’s my last ride as a senior, I didn’t want to miss it for the world.”
Prairie Ridge started the season 2-6, but ended it with memories for a lifetime.
“Pec said we had to turn it around,” Porter said. “We turned it around and got hot at a great time. We battled every single pitch. Nobody wanted it more than us.”
To reach the championship, the Wolves scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat Washington.
“Resilience. Toughness,” Pecoraro said. “These guys fought to the end. We were inconsistent (early in the season). We would have moments when we’d play five great innings and blow up.
“We knew the players were here. We had to have confidence to play at a high level for the entire ballgame. I’m proud of that.”