SCHAUMBURG – Crystal Lake South kept battling to keep its postseason run alive Monday no matter how many different obstacles were placed in its way.
The Gators overcame four lead changes, three ties and a one-hour, seven-minute rain delay against Fenwick in their Class 3A Schaumburg Supersectional to win, 8-6, in six innings, returning to the state semifinals for the first time since 2017.
Crystal Lake South will play Nazareth at noon Friday at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet.
“We needed to believe to win,” South designated hitter Chris Kahle said. “We came this far, everyone wanted to pull through, and all the confidence was there.”
Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth, South had the bases loaded with one out. Fenwick reliever Luke Mockler walked Mark DeCicco to tie the game at 6-all. Luis Gonzalez then came in to pitch for the Friars and walked Kahle to give South a 7-6 lead.
Joey Weldon added a sacrifice fly to right field to make it 8-6 Gators.
The two teams, which had played through rain since the start of the fifth inning, were sent to the dugouts soon after following a nearby lighting strike. After a one-hour, seven-minute delay, the groundskeeper decided that the storms wouldn’t clear, and the contest was called.
“This was one of the things that was out of our control,” said Fenwick assistant coach Kyle Kmiecik, who filled in for Fenwick manager Dave Hogan. “It’s not an easy thing to swallow.”
Fenwick threatened to have a big inning in the sixth. Jimmy Martin already had given his team a 6-5 lead on a single that went through the middle of the infield and the Friars still had the bases loaded with no outs. But South reliever Ryan Skwarek struck out three straight to get out of the jam.
South took an early lead in the first when Kyle Kuffel singled through the middle of the infield to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
Down 3-1 in the second, South’s Mason Struck tied the game when he doubled to left field and gave his team a 4-3 lead when he scored on a wild pitch. The Gators would again rally to tie in fifth before the game-winning rally in the sixth.
Gators manager Brian Bogda said playing in the Fox Valley Conference prepared his team for Monday’s back-and-forth style and that his players would know what to do in order to earn the win.
“We had a lot of games like this late in the season, this was nothing new,” Bogda said. “You just have to keep battling and being resilient and doing your best.”
Fenwick batters did something not many batters had been able to do against South starter Ysen Useni. The pitcher entered Monday with a string of 22 scoreless innings and 34 strikeouts.
The Friars took a 2-1 lead in the top of the second when Jordan Vazquez doubled on a full-count pitch to the left field corner. Josh Wicker made it 3-1 later in the inning when he singled to right field.
Jack Power tied it at 4-all in the top of the third on a single to left field, and Finnley Koch gave the Friars a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth when he snuck a double down the third base line.
Useni pitched three innings and allowed four runs on five hits, striking out two and walking three.
“I’m glad that [our team] got a chance to be in a situation like this,” Kmiecik said. “Playing at Wintrust Field, an environment like this. The energy and intensity just gets higher and higher.”
The Gators entered the Class 3A Grayslake Central Sectional as the No. 6 seed and have proved why they belong in the state semifinal after wins against St. Viator for the sectional title and Fenwick for a supersectional title.
“I’m super proud of the team and how our guys have come together late in the season,” Bogda said. “The way they’re working, buying into the situational hitting and then playing really good defense and pitching the ball. I’m just really proud of them and they’ve never given up.”