Baseball: Nick Kowalczuk's hit sends Oak Park-River Forest into state semis
Updated: June 4, 2012 10:56PM
ROCKFORD — Junior Nick Kowalczuk does whatever he can for his senior teammates.
On Monday, it took a base hit from Oak Park-River Forest’s slugging first baseman to propel the Huskies to their 13th state tournament appearance. Kowalczuk delivered in the clutch in the bottom of the sixth inning when his one-out double down the third-base line scored Zach Weigel with the game’s only a run in a 1-0 victory over Highland Park in the Class 4A Rockford Supersectional at RiverHawks Stadium.
“I play for the seniors,” Kowalczuk said.
OPRF’s run in the sixth ended a streak of 11 consecutive batters retired for Highland Park starter Brett Shimanovsky, who allowed only one other hit in the game — a double by Scott Cottingham-Beard in the second inning. After one out, Weigel walked and Jack Picchiotti was hit by a pitch as the next batter. That brought Kowalczuk to the plate.
“I think that was one of the most important hits [of my career] to go Downstate,” Kowalczuk said. “Their pitcher got on you fast. He kept his strikes low and it took a little while to figure him out.”
Seton Hall-bound Weigel scored the game's only run and became the winning pitcher. Weigel (7-1) allowed three hits, walked three and struck out four. As an eighth grader, Weigel saw the final game of OPRF’s 2008 season, the last time the Huskies went to the state tournament. Prairie Ridge beat the Huskies 3-2 in the state championship game.
OPRF (29-9-1) will play Grant (24-11) or Schaumburg (25-13) in the state semifinal at 3 p.m. Friday at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. OPRF coach Chris Ledbetter said Joe McKune will start Friday’s game.
The loss ended a surprising five-game run through the playoffs for Highland Park (20-20), which was a No. 13 seed in the sectional. The Giants lost their final three games of the regular season and battled in the supersectional behind Shimanovsky (1-7), who walked two batters and struck out three.
Purdue-bound catcher Jack Picchiotti was in eighth grade when he watched his older brother, Sam, lose in the state championship game in 2008.
“I cried when he lost,” Picchiotti said.
Highland Park had a chance to tie the game in the top of the seventh when Harrison Carl led off with a single to center field. Adam Kaplan bunted Carl to second base on a sacrifice and Carl reached third on a ground out. Carl was stranded at third when Jake Rubin struck out to end the game.
“We did everything right that inning. We get the guy on, we get the bunt and we got two opportunities to get it done,” Giants coach Eddie Pieczynski said. “At the end of the day, it’s baseball.”
Illinois-bound catcher Jason Goldstein, a four-year starter for Highland Park, singled with two outs in the first. The Giants had only one more hit, Daniel Oversen’s two-out single in the third, while Weigel gained momentum midway through the game. Weigel retired 12 of 15 batters before the sixth inning.
Goldstein was one of seven seniors to appear in their final game for the Giants.
“These group of guys really did love each other,” Goldstein said. “We hung out on weekends a lot and even outside the baseball season.”
Goldstein remembered being a No. 1 sectional seed in the playoffs and losing in the first round as a freshman. During his career, one of the highlights was playing with his older brother Tyler.
“This year was unbelievable for us,” said senior first baseman Christian Biondi. “We’ve been together since we were 9-10 years old. It was fun pulling off something like this.”