FLOSSMOOR – Players sometimes accept placement in the bullpen in different ways.
But its pretty clear that Providence reliever Jack Wajda not only likes it, but doesn’t really want things any other way.
Wajda entered in a messy situation in the fifth inning of Providence’s Class 4A Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional championship game with Homewood-Flossmoor on Friday and promptly extinguished it. He then created a bit of a problem for himself in the seventh, but managed to put that fire out, too, as Providence captured a 3-2 victory over the host Vikings.
“I knew my team had my back, and I wasn’t feeling that much pressure. I knew I had to let my defense work and we’d get the job done,” Wajda said. “I love the pressure. I thrive under it.”
The victory lifts Providence (26-12), winner of 11 straight, into Monday night’s supersectional game at Illinois State University in Normal, where it will play O’Fallon. O’Fallon toppled Joliet West, 6-3, in its sectional title game Friday.
Providence starting pitcher Alex Alberico settled in nicely after enduring a blistering double from H-F leadoff hitter and Michigan recruit Dillon Head to lead off the game. Head came around to score, but after that Alberico was almost unhittable through the fourth inning.
But he hit a rough pocket in the fifth inning with Providence leading, 3-1. Head, who already had tagged him for the only two hits he had allowed, led off the fifth with a beautifully executed bunt single. Shea Robinson rapped a double to place runners at second and third with nobody out. Providence coach Mark Smith elected to go to Wajda at that point, as he had excelled in that role on multiple occasions.
“He’s been our guy all year,” Smith said of Wajda. “We started him in a couple of big games earlier in the season, but we decided as a staff he’s just more comfortable coming out of the pen. He proved again today why we have the confidence in him that we do.”
He didn’t disappoint.
Wajda promptly got H-F’s imposing No. 3 hitter and Ohio State recruit Josh McCallister to ground out to second. The play allowed Head to score to close the gap to 3-2, but it kept Robinson at second base, and Wajda recorded back-to-back flyouts to end the inning.
In the seventh, Wajda’s string of six consecutive outs came to an end when H-F’s No. 9 hitter, Cleveland Hardy, rapped a single, and Head again proved to be a thorn in Providence’s side with yet another hit, his fourth of the game. With two on, Wajda settled down to strike out Robinson for the first out.
McCallister stepped in and lashed a ball at Providence third baseman Ryan O’Neil that carried him right to the bag to force the lead runner before throwing on to first for a game-ending double play.
“We were a little concerned there in the seventh inning, because the top four guys in that lineup can really swing it,” Smith said. “What a great job. I can’t tell you how proud I am of these kids and how much they have fought, battled back. We’re playing really good ball. It was an excellent team effort.”
Providence’s offense wasn’t potent, but timely. The Celtics managed only four hits, but two of them were of the run-scoring variety. Brayden Garrigan had an RBI double in the third, and Cain Headrick provided what proved to be the game-winning RBI by driving in Sebastian Biggs with a single in the fifth. Providence’s other run scored on a wild pitch in the fourth.