Baseball: Conor Funk’s homer carries Marist past Richards

At 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, Conor Funk may not look like the prototypical high school slugger.

Unless you watched him in this week’s Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Richards Regional, that is.

The rising Marist senior homered for the second straight day on Tuesday, slugging a two-run shot to put the RedHawks ahead to stay in a 9-8 win over the host Bulldogs.

Marist (8-5-1) plays Oak Forest (9-3) in a 1:30 p.m. semifinal Wednesday at Richards.

The RedHawks didn’t have an easy path to advancement, losing an 5-1 lead before Funk’s sixth-inning homer put them back on top 8-7.

“I was loading my hands back,” Funk said. “I coach hear coach (Tom) Fabrizio down the third-base line telling me to get a rhythm in my hands. I got a low fastball and I got all of it.”

Fabrizio isn’t all that surprised by Funk’s power surge.

“He’s got a little pop,” the Marist coach said. “Most teams don’t think he can hit the ball.

“Being in the 2-hole, I’m going to ask him to do that not too much. It’s nice that he will (sometimes). But really, he’s got to bunt, move runners and drive in the occasional run. He’s done a nice job this summer.”

All the RedHawks have been doing what Fabrizio wants, which is to play grinder ball.

“That’s what they do – they really, really play hard,” he said. “It doesn’t always go in our favor. But I’d say more often than not, if we play hard for a strong seven innings, I like our chances.”

On a day with temperatures flirting with 100, that’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do.

“It was tough,” Funk said. “It was a hot one, long innings. It was more mental than physical.

“It came down to pitching. We kept more balls low so (there were) more ground balls. And we got it up in the air (so) it carried a little more.”

Marist broke a 1-1 tie with a four-run third keyed by Bryan Polak’s two-run triple to center. Richards pulled within 5-4 in the fourth, getting RBI from Harley Miller, Charlie Zeschke and Danny Estrella.

Cody Bohanek’s RBI triple in the top of the fifth made it 6-4 Marist, but the Bulldogs took a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the inning as Shawn Chiaramonte, Miller and Zeschke drove in runs.

That set the stage for Funk’s heroics in the top of the sixth, which made a winner of starter Matt McKenzie. Both teams scored runs on sacrifice flies in the seventh before Marist reliever Nick Hnatkusko completed a two-inning save.

Funk finished 2-for-3 with a walk, three runs and three RBI for the RedHawks. Jack Gainer doubled twice, walked twice and scored two runs.

Chiaramonte went 2-for-4, drove in one run and scored three for Richards.

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