Sports Information Director
ELGIN, Ill. – The emotional and influential run that was your 2014 Holy Cross Saints baseball team came to an end on Wednesday evening in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) championship game. After forcing a winner take all game-seven type situation with a 7-4 10-inning win in game one, the Saints looked for one final push to be crowned conference champions. Despite falling behind 7-0 in the early stages, they drew within 7-5 in the top of the third before ultimately falling to the tournament champion Eagles by a final score of 10-6. Holy Cross concluded its historic season with a 24-33 overall record and a runner-up finish in the CCAC tournament.
"I'm extremely proud of the boys on our team for their effort during this run," head coach Brian Blondell reflected. "Although the ending was not what we wanted, they know what it takes to play in the biggest games in our extremely talented conference. The off-season for us begins tomorrow, and I know that the boys will be focused and geared up to finish what they started next season."
With the second game not guaranteed, the Saints first needed to win the early game to force the Wednesday night rubber match.
In just his second career start, Darwing Ereu (JR/Mishawaka, Ind.) got out of early trouble in the bottom of the first of game one, stranding a pair of runners on second and third. The Eagles would be first to get on the board in the bottom of the second, however, after an RBI single to left center put the Saints behind 1-0. The threat would end with runners stranded on second and third as Ereu would get Balough to foul out to third base.
After the first two innings, Judson amassed four hits, had four runners left on base and only one run to show for their early dominance.
The Saints got out of a jam in the bottom of the third where the final out was recorded at home plate and then opened the top of the fourth with a spark from leadoff man Stephen Clancy (JR/Yorkville, Ill.). In the frame, Clancy led the inning off with a triple to right center field and was then brought in with a sacrifice fly by Jackson Hallahan (SR/Lester Prairie, Minn.) to tie the game at 1-1. The Saints had their first hit in the inning and had the momentum switched to their side.
Ereu continued to pitch solid in the fourth and fifth, allowing no hits and surrendering just two base runners due to errors by the Saints. In the top of the sixth, Blake Correll (SO/Oak Creek, Wis.) led off the inning with a single through the left side before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt from Chris Woodruff (JR/Mishawaka, Ind.). With two outs in the frame, Jackson Hallahan came through again for the Saints with a double to right center field that put the Saints in front for the first time in the game at 2-1. Another clutch two-out hit from Paul Kappaz (JR/Grosse Pointe, Mich.) then extended the Saints lead to 3-1 through the top of the sixth.
Despite the momentum from the top of the sixth, Judson quickly responded in the bottom half of the frame with a leadoff double. Ereu would then record two consecutive outs to stand the leadoff runner on second base. However, a hit by pitch then had two base runners for the Eagles; a single to short right field, combined with an error by the Saints, then scored the lead runner at second and the runner on first to tie the score at 3-3 through six innings.
The Saints would record just one hit over the final two innings, with their final out in the ninth coming on a caught stealing play at second base. Ereu would record the first out of the bottom of the ninth before his day would end after a hit-by-pitch to the next hitter. For the game, Ereu completed 8.1 innings with seven hits, three runs (two earned) and three strikeouts. Adam Janowiak (FR/Granger, Ind.) entered the tight bottom of the ninth with an inherited runner on first base and proceeded to get two big outs to send the game to extra innings.
It was in the top of the tenth where the Saints found another surge of momentum. Three hits and four runs later, the Saints had a 7-3 lead over the tournament-hosts from Judson University. Stephen Clancy recorded an RBI after a bases loaded walk before Jackson Hallahan brought in two more runs with a single to right field. Jacob Lanning (JR/Roscoe, Ill.) then drove in the final run for the Saints in the inning with a single to bring home Clancy and give the Saints their new 7-3 advantage. Holy Cross was now just three outs away from forcing the rubber match finale.
Janowiak continued to pitch strong for the Saints in the bottom of the 10th. A one-out home run from Judson's Stevens brought the score to within 7-4. However, a fly out to left field and a groundout to third base ended the Eagles threat and propelled the Saints to the 7-4 win. For Janowiak, he improved to 2-0 after the victory.
Jackson Hallahan and Blake Correll each went 2-for-4 for the Saints in game one. Correll finished with two runs scored while Hallahan drove in a season-high four RBIs. Paul Kappaz also went 2-for-5 at the plate with an RBI.
"We could have easily lost focus after they tied the game up late," continued Blondell. "The guys came through down the stretch and helped us force this one final game to decide the conference champion."
With the win, the implications of game two grew enormously as the winner of this final nine inning game would win the CCAC tournament championship and receive an automatic bid to nationals.
The Saints became the home team in game two as freshman Nick Munger (FR/Perrysburg, Ohio) took the mound for his seventh start of the season.
A scary start to the rubber match finale put Judson on the board after the first batter as Billy Wright laced a shot to deep left center field that led to an inside the park home run. On the play, Saints center fielder Stephen Clancy had a scary run-in with the wall at the field and had to be removed from the game for the first two innings. Despite the leadoff home run, Munger got the next three hitters out and the Saints were due up in the top of the first with a 1-0 deficit.
After going down in order in the bottom of the first, the Eagles offense put together another productive inning with runs. A walk and a hit batter put Judson in prime position before Rojas tripled to right center to extend their early lead to 3-0. Their production continued with an RBI single to through the left side and a sacrifice fly to right field to open up a 5-0 lead through the top of the second.
The Saints were shutdown in order once again in the bottom of the second and Judson had another offensive burst in the top of the third. Trey Bickel (FR/Mishawaka, Ind.) entered the game for the Saints on the mound at the start of the inning. A walk and a single through the left side had runners in scoring position for Judson; Rallo drove in the first run of the inning with an RBI single to center field. After the bases got loaded up, Jordan Gard (SO/Mishawaka, Ind.) then came into the game for the Saints. The Eagles added another run in the inning before Gard closed it out with an inning-ending double play started by Blake Correll at third. With four hits and two more runs, the Saints were now trailing 7-0.
Two quick outs in the bottom of the third had the Saints in a difficult spot after giving up seven unanswered runs. It was a string of two-out hits, though, that suddenly had the Saints in a much better situation. Chris Woodruff started the rally with an infield single before Stephen Clancy laced a double to left center to bring home the Saints first run in the championship game. Jackson Hallahan continued his productive day at the plate with an RBI single through the right side to make it a 7-2 score. Paul Kappaz kept things alive with the fourth consecutive hit in the inning before Jacob Lanning capped the rally off with a three-run shot clear over the right field wall for his second home run of the season, bringing the Saints within 7-5 on the scoreboard.
With newfound life in this championship game, Gard worked quickly for the Saints in the top of the fourth, shutting down the Eagles in order. After leading off the bottom of the fourth with a fly out to center field, the Saints put down three consecutive bunts to load up the bases with one out. With a great opportunity on their hands to continue to trim their deficit, the Saints squared up two hard shots that were unfortunately hit right at Judson fielders, stranding the bases loaded.
Judson would be next to add runs in the top of the sixth after a two-out three-run shot extended their lead to 10-5. The Saints were then unable to record any base runners in the bottom half as the seventh inning was now upon them.
Matt Schwitz (JR/Granger, Ind.) took the mound for the Saints in the seventh and worked quickly through his first two innings as he shut down six consecutive hitters. Holy Cross would get one run back in the bottom of the eighth after an RBI single from Stephen Clancy. The Saints would get two hits and leave two stranded in the frame with just three guaranteed outs remaining.
Schwitz continued to pitch strong in the ninth, facing four batters and leaving a runner left on base. It was now time for the Saints to give it one last push.
Paul Kappaz got things started for the Saints in the bottom of the ninth with a leadoff single through the left side. An infield error and a passed ball with Lanning at the plate had the Saints on second and third with no outs. After surrendering their first out of the inning with a strikeout, Jordan Hinton (SO/Granger, Ind.) then reached first base with a walk to load up the bases. Mike Pizzuto (JR/Sarasota, Fla.) hit the ball about as hard as he could in the final at bat of the game, unfortunately driving the ball right at the shortstop who flipped it to second base for the game-ending double play. Judson would secure their second consecutive CCAC tournament championship with the 10-6 win over the ever-tough Holy Cross Saints.
When they could have easily folded after trailing 7-0, the Saints continued to fight until the very last out was recorded. Despite leaving the game in the top of the first with an apparent injury, Stephen Clancy returned to center field for the Saints and finished 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Jackson Hallahan, Paul Kappaz and Chris Woodruff all recorded two hits in the game.
Despite a difficult outcome, head coach Brian Blondell had a lot to be proud of with his team, especially the group of seniors.
"I'm thankful to each of the seniors associated with our program this year," Blondell continued. "They've invested so much to our program and never found reason to give in, even during the difficult moments. I want each of you to know that you will always be Saints; you set the tone for this program and I hope we can continue to make you proud in 2015."
The 2014 Holy Cross baseball team continued to make strides over the course of their 57-game season. Despite a difficult 3-16 start to the year, the Saints managed to win a program-best 24 games, have a winning record in conference play and make their first-ever appearance in the CCAC postseason. The surface has just been scratched with the potential of this team. This special group of 35 players and coaches made an influential run in the 2014 postseason, not only advancing to championship Wednesday, but forcing the winner take all game-seven moment against one of the best teams in the country. It has been an honor covering this group of young men this season, and I'd like to personally thank each of them and you, the fans and readers. Thanks for making each home game and each road trip so special for this group. We look forward to continued success beginning next season.