CARY – The 11-1 final score of Prairie Ridge’s baseball game against Woodstock North in Thursday’s Class 3A Cary-Grove Regional semifinal indicates it was a game bereft of any drama.
In this case, looks are completely deceiving.
For five innings it was a classic pitchers’ duel between Prairie Ridge’s Trace Vrbancic and North’s Blake Herrmann, whose team scored an unearned run for the lead in the first inning.
The Wolves finally broke through in the fifth inning, tying the score and setting up No. 3 hitter Tyler Vasey with the bases loaded. Vasey drilled a grand slam to left field to spark Prairie Ridge to an 11-1, six-inning victory.
Class 3A Cary-Grove Baseball Sectional: Prairie Ridge 5, Woodstock North 1, T6. PR’s Tyler Vasey hits a grand slam and the dugout goes nuts. pic.twitter.com/3kO18bsDH4— Joe Stevenson (@nwh_JoePrepZone) May 25, 2023
Vrbancic struck out 10 batters and came to the dugout after the top of the sixth with a no-hitter and a 5-1 lead. When the Wolves (14-21) put up six more, Vrbancic had the no-no without having to go back out for the seventh inning. North finished 17-11.
“(Vrbancic) pitched outstanding. He went out there and he dealt,” Vasey said. “Every single pitch he was confident. He was outstanding. That’s the reason we won today.”
Prairie Ridge advances to Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship game against the host Trojans (25-9).
While the Wolves were trailing, they kept faith as Vrbancic kept piling up strikeouts. Second baseman Brennan Coyle made the toughest play to save a hit, going into the hole between first and second to scoop up Tyler Fink’s grounder in the fourth and throw him out.
“It was five innings and it’s 1-0, I was thinking we could lose this game,” Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said. “He was filling [the strike zone] up. He commanded both sides of the plate, he got ahead of every hitter. You couldn’t ask for more, he pitched phenomenally.”
Vrbancic and Vasey both started in the Class 3A state championship game as sophomores against Springfield. Vrbancic enjoyed pitching in a tight game against Herrmann.
“It’s awesome. I love it. It’s always fun,” he said. “I had fastball in, slider and curve away, just a complete, consistent plan on attacking hitters and stuck with it the entire game.
“I trust my teammates, they were putting the ball in play, it just happened to be at people. I knew they were going to find gaps soon.”
The bottom of the fifth started slowly with Gabe Porter getting hit by a pitch with one out and stealing second. With two outs, Matt Smith laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line. Then, Coyle reached on catcher’s interference, Karson Stiefer was hit by a pitch, which brought in a run to make it 1-1.
Vasey, who flew out to the warning track in his previous at-bat, was next. He thought of the words former Wolves player Kevin Kaczmarski, who played with the New York Mets, had offered at Wednesday’s practice.
“It couldn’t happen to a better kid. I just love the kid to death. The kid competes his butt off every day, whether we’re winning, whether we’re losing.”— Glen Pecoraro, Prairie Ridge coach on Tyler Vasey
“I thought about having the same approach going up, staying as calm as I can,” Vasey said. “[Kaczmarski] said ‘Clear your mind. Have a slow approach at the plate. Just be positive with yourself.’ "
Vasey took Herrmann’s 1-1 pitch out and the Wolves’ dugout went crazy. It was only Prairie Ridge’s fourth hit, but it provided Vrbancic plenty of support.
Herrmann (7-1) had thrown only 33 pitches through the first four innings and allowed two hits.
“I’m really proud of the way he’s pitched and competed all year,” Thunder coach John Oslovich said. “We didn’t score enough to win, regardless of how he pitched. He pitched incredible. I have no issue with how he pitched today.
“He throws everything for strikes, it keeps the hitters off-balance. He got the flyout to Vasey, it was the exact same pitch. We talked about not throwing that pitch in the same spot, and he threw it in the same spot, not intentionally, he just left it over there and he hits the home run.”
Vic Flores led off the next inning with a sharp single and Oslovich, thinking Herrmann had just finished a stressful inning, went to the bullpen. The Wolves loaded the bases with two bunt singles, then ended the game with two hit batters and two sacrifice flies, from Stiefer and Vasey.
Pecoraro has grown accustomed to Vasey thriving in critical moments.
“Hit that ball into a wind like that? God bless him,” Pecoraro said. “It couldn’t happen to a better kid. I just love the kid to death. The kid competes his butt off every day, whether we’re winning, whether we’re losing.”
Class 3A Cary-Grove Regional
Prairie Ridge 11, Woodstock North 1 (6 inn.)
Woodstock North 100 000 – 1 0 2
Prairie Ridge 000 056 – 11 8 2
WP: Trace Vrbancic, 3-6 (6IP, 0H, 1R, 0ER, 1BB, 10K). LP: Blake Herrmann, 7-1 (5IP, 5H, 6R, 5ER, 0BB, 2K).
Top hitters – Prairie Ridge: Brennan Coyle 1-3 (2RBIs), Tyler Vasey 2-3 (GS, SF, 5RBIs), Matt Smith 1-2 (RBI).