Baseball: Lemont advances to state championship game with 6-3 victory over Highland

Lemont will play Crystal Lake Central for the 3A state title on Saturday

Lemont players celebrate their Class 3A state semifinal win over Highland Friday, June 7, 2024, at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet.

JOLIET – Eight years ago no one on Lemont’s baseball team was older than 10.

Well, none of the players anyway.

Coach Brian Storako was a little bit older than that.

“I was 34,” he said. “So a little bit older than 10.”

Eight years ago was the last time Lemont advanced to the state championship game. It was Lemont’s second title game in three years and its second championship victory.

Since then, Lemont has won four regional titles, but it hasn’t gotten any closer to another title.

Until this year.

Lemont already has advanced further than it had since the second title by making the 3A state semifinal. Friday afternoon, however, it decided it wasn’t done yet, defeating Highland 6-3 at Duly Health & Care Field.

Lemont advances to play Crystal Lake Central in the state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“These guys have worked their butts off this year” Storako said. “We battled through some adversity and never gave up. We kept battling, kept working and here we are.”

After two scoreless innings, the Bulldogs got on the board first on a fielder’s choice with Zane Korte crossing home plate to put them up 1-0.

Lemont’s bats woke up from there, beginning with Brett Tucker’s two-run triple to score Matt Devoy and Shea Glotzbach to put Lemont up 2-1. Nick Berardi then made it a three-run game with an RBI single to score Tucker.

A sacrifice fly by Devoy to score Noah Tomaras in the top of the fifth made it 4-1 Lemont before a two-run RBI single by Max Michalak scored Berardi and Andrew Phelan to make it a 6-1 contest.

Highland wouldn’t let it be easy. A sacrifice fly by Korte scored Deklan Riggs before Brayden Bircher scored on an error to cut the deficit in half at 6-3. That was as close as the bulldogs could get, however, as Lemont held on for the win.

Glotzbach was excellent on the mound with three strikeouts while allowing only three hits. Tucker went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, while Michalak had two RBIs, as well. Donovan Moleski finished the last two innings of the day and allowed one hit with two strikeouts in relief.

Berardi emphasized the closeness of this group, saying he felt it was the biggest factor in Lemont making it this far.

“We came to the field everyday for hours of practice” Berardi said. “We put work in outside of practice. We really just came together as a team. We’re all brothers here.”

Next up will be Crystal Lake Central. On paper, Lemont should be favored as it’s 31-9 and ranked fourth in its sectional while the Tigers entered the postseason 14-14. They’ve won six in a row, however, and can’t be taken lightly.

“Everyone is 0-0 when it comes to playoff time,” Storako said. “It doesn’t matter what you did in April. You don’t win championships in April, you win them in May and June. We want to be playing our best baseball when the playoffs start. ... Crystal Lake is good, so we’ll just have to play our game.”

Win or lose, the next game will be the last of the season for Lemont. The hope will always be to win and bring home the third state title in program history while showing Lemont is more than just an outstanding softball program.

“I feel like this means a lot,” Glotzbach said. “It’s great to represent the program and just the town in general. We want to show that we’re not just a softball town, we’re a baseball town too. We can beat anybody.”

For each player on the roster, it will be a feeling unlike any other. While it’ll be the third state title game of his career, Storako said it will be every bit as special for him.

“They’re all awesome,” Storako said. “One’s not bigger than the other. We just have to play one pitch at a time, one at bat at a time and one game at a time to see what happens. We’re just going to have some fun and do our thing. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”