Class 3A baseball: AJ Zweeres’ gamble comes up golden for Morris in 1-0 win over Highland for 3rd place

Morris’ A.J. Zweeres holds up the 3rd place trophy after their 1-0 8 inning win against Highland in the IHSA Class 3A 3rd place game on Saturday June 8, 2024 Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet.

JOLIET — Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday in the Class 3A third-place game at Duly Health and Care Field, Morris senior AJ Zweeres launched a ball into the left-center field gap.

As Zweeres neared second base, head coach Todd Kein had his hands up, intending for him to stop at second.

Zweeres had other ideas.

He never slowed down and slid safely into third. The throw from the Highland relay man got away at third, and Zweeres got to his feet and sprinted home with the winning run in a 1-0 victory. It is the first state trophy for Morris since winning the Class AA title in 1995.

“When I got near second, I saw the ball was still in the outfield,” Zweeres said. “I was going full speed and took a chance. It’s probably one of the first times I have run through a stop sign.

“I had hit a couple of balls hard in earlier at-bats, and the rest of the team was just telling me to go up there and be myself. I finally got a good pitch, put a good swing on it and it went.

“When I crossed the plate and turned around, the whole team was running toward me. I think Jack [Wheeler] was the first one to get to me and pretty much tackle me. Then the whole team piled on. It was great.”

Kein had all the confidence in Zweeres’ decision to run.

Morris’ A.J. Zweeres heads home for the game winning run on a wild throw against Highland in the IHSA Class 3A 3rd place game on Saturday June 8, 2024 Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet.

“We have a philosophy on the bases,” Kein said. “Eyes over ears. Me putting my hands up is the equivalent to the ears part. As a coach, you want to play it safe and not risk making the first out at third, but AJ knew he could make it and we trust our guys.

“Yesterday [a 5-2 loss to Crystal Lake Central] was tough. It’s one of the toughest positions to be in, coming back to play after a loss in the state tournament. But when we showed up at our park to come up here, the vibe I got from our kids was a good one.”

Much of that good vibe must have had a lot to do with the knowledge that ace pitcher Cody Del Favero was on the mound. Del Favero entered the game with a 12-0 record and 1.38 ERA.

All the Parkland recruit did was face the minimum 24 batters over eight innings, finishing with a one-hitter with five strikeouts with no walks.

Highland got its first baserunner in the fourth inning when Del Favero hit Trey Koishor with a pitch. On the very next pitch, Del Favero induced a double play grounder to shortstop Nazim Baftiri.

In the sixth, Brayden Bircher led off with a double down the third-base line for the Bulldogs. After he was sacrificed to third by Keaton Favre, Bircher broke for home on an attempted suicide squeeze. Del Favero threw an outside pitch to the left-handed hitting Zane Korte. Korte missed his bunt attempt and Morris catcher Griffin Zweeres tagged out Bircher.

“After the Sycamore game [a 5-3 win in the supersectional] Monday, I knew I would be throwing in the last game of the year,” Del Favero said. “A little anger from yesterday’s loss came with me today. Our defense was awesome and really backed me up.

“I saw the squeeze coming out of the corner of my eye, so I knew I had to throw a low pitch. It worked out perfectly.”

Morris’ Cody DelFavero delivers a pitch against Highland in the IHSA Class 3A 3rd place game on Saturday June 8, 2024 Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet.

Morris (30-4) did not do much with Highland starter Trent Clemons, who allowed just three hits over the first seven innings. Brett Bounds singled in the first, Griffin Zweeres led off the second with a single and Merek Klicker hit a one-out double in the bottom of the seventh.

Morris was also the victim of having virtually lost a run due to a balk being called. After Griffin Zweeres’ single, courtesy runner Lorenzo Zdanwic stole second. An out later, Baftiri hit a ball that one-hopped the fence in left and would have scored Zdanwic.

However, a balk was called before the pitch and the ball was dead with Zdanwic advancing to third. Baftiri then lined out to third before a walk to Colin Pfeifer and a stolen base, but Clemons got out of the inning with a strikeout.

“That’s not the first time that’s happened to us this year,” Kein said. “During a conference game, there was a balk called and Cody hit a home run on the pitch, so it didn’t count.”

Morris becomes one of eight teams in the state to win its final game of the year.

“This has been a pretty unforgettable group,” Kein said. “All 11 of our seniors [AJ Zweeres, Del Favero, Anthony Xydakis, Keegan Waters, Zach Smolkovich, Aaron Wills, AJ Franzetti, Caston Norris, Maddox Reta, Logan Houston, and Carter Laudeman] come from different walks of life. To see them come together and do what they have done for this program, the word ‘special’ doesn’t do it justification.

“This has been an unforgettable group that gave this old dog the greatest season of his life. Watching them do what they have done, I feel like a very proud dad.”