Baseball: Explosive fourth inning propels Providence Catholic to sectional championship over Lincoln-Way West

After falling behind by two runs, Celtics put seven up in the seventh to advance to super sectional

The Providence Catholic baseball team celebrates winning the sectional championship

NEW LENOX – This probably goes without saying, but there was certainty that whichever advanced to the supersectional round between Providence Catholic and Lincoln-Way West would be one heck of a baseball team.

Providence has been one of the top teams in the area all season with four Division I commits on the Celtics’ roster. Lincoln-Way West has a pair of its own and started the year with 23 consecutive wins. Celtics coach Mark Smith said before the playoffs started that he believed this sectional was perhaps the most competitive from top to bottom in the state. Either the Warriors or Celtics would prove a hard out.

In the end, the Celtics just had a little bit more in the tank.

After falling behind by two early, the Celtics exploded in the fourth inning with seven runs to pull way ahead. That was all the offense they’d need as they won the Class 3A Providence Catholic Sectional 7-2 on Friday.

The Celtics (30-8) barely wound up in this position. They were down 1-0 in the eighth inning to Homewood-Flossmoor earlier in the week in the regional finals before earning a walk-off, 2-1 win. It wasn’t the prettiest day for Providence, but it managed to survive and advance.

Friday, it didn’t look great early as Jacob Willis put the Warriors up 2-0 in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI double to score Ben Shea and Josh Howard. After a scoreless third, it was fair to wonder if the Celtics had any Irish luck left.

Boy did they ever.

The fourth inning saw Providence Catholic pop off, starting with Cooper Eggert’s RBI single to score Jackson Smith to get the Celtics on the board. Nate O’Donnell later scored on a wild pitch to tie things up before Michael Noonan scored Eggert and Eddie Olszta on an RBI single to put Providence up 4-2 with two outs.

The Celtics weren’t done, though, as Smith later singled on a ground ball to center field to score Noonan and Mitch Voltz and make it a 6-2 game. John Greenwood was later walked with the bases loaded and Enzo Infelise scored to give Providence their seventh and final run of the day. It was all they’d need as they closed out the win the rest of the way.

“[It was] a heck of a fourth inning,” Jackson Smith said. “We got the offense going. We things flowing, had a two-out rally, tied it and didn’t stop. We just put them out of it. It was nice to see.”

After committing five errors against Homewood-Flossmoor in a regional final, some may have doubted the Celtics ability to get it done against such a strong opponent. But the Celtics have been a quality program for years, and they saw the win over the Vikings as them managing to do what all good teams know how to do this late in the game: Get it done.

“That’s the name of the game,” Jackson Smith said. “Survive and advance. It doesn’t matter how you win as long as you’re moving along in that bracket. That’s all that matters at the end of the day is that we keep moving along.”

As for Lincoln-Way West (30-5), there’s plenty to be proud of. After opening the year with 23 wins in a row, they dropped four of the next six, leading some to write them off. The Warriors never wrote back, however, as they outscored their next five opponents 34-3 and still reached the sectional finals. It was one of the best seasons in Lincoln-Way West history by nearly every metric.

“When you look beyond the loss today, which is going to sting and it does hurt, the season as a whole was a success,” head coach Jake Zajc said. “There were a lot of great times. We had a great senior group and leadership. The community was great. I’m just lucky to be the head coach and to have the coaches that we have and the players we have. We’ll keep working hard and pushing on.”

Providence will play Chicago Mt. Carmel in the supersectional at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Crestwood. Mark Smith said he’s looking forward to the next challenge.

“Our players played our hearts out and earned this,” Smith said. “We’ve got to play relaxed, stay composed and do what we know how to do. Whatever happens happens, but I’m proud of this team.”