Harlan surprises Simeon in city finalHarlan players celebrate after winning the Chicago Public League baseball championship against Simeon. l Keith Hale~Sun-Times
Updated: May 26, 2011 5:54PM
Harlan centerfielder Canance King Jr. stood on the grass at U.S. Cellular Field, flashing a smile as permanent as the surprising final score on the JumboTron, while his teammates celebrated wildly.
King had plenty of reasons to smile, after all. Not only did the senior make a spectacular game-saving diving catch on the warning track in the bottom of the sixth, he coaxed a bases-loaded, tie-breaking walk in the seventh -- all of which contributed to Harlan’s thrilling 7-6 victory over Simeon in the Chicago Public League championship game Monday.
The victory over its South Side rival Simeon (25-4) gave Harlan (25-7) its first city championship since 1993.
“I’ve been waiting for this for four years,” said King, “and we finally did it.”
Harlan erupted for five runs in the third inning to build a 5-1 cushion. But slowly Simeon chipped away at the lead, and it looked like the Wolverines were finally going to overtake Harlan in the bottom of the sixth when junior Shane Brown smashed a drive to center field with a man on second base.
That’s when King made the play of the game – and likely the best catch of his life. In a dead spring back, King made a made an over-the-shoulder diving catch on the warning track to rob Brown and preserve a 6-6 tie heading into the seventh inning.
Right-handed pitcher Jabarri Roberts (10-2), who threw a gutsy complete game, knew he made a mistake to Brown.
“That was a butt-clencher,” said Roberts, who allowed nine hits, struck out two and walked three. “But I had a feeling Canance would catch that.”
Then in the top of the seventh, Harlan loaded up the bases with two outs. King came to the plate, having been pinch-hit for in his last at-bat. He worked the count full before he was walked to bring in the winning run.
“I was just trying to stay alive and put the ball in play,” said King.
Simeon didn’t go away quietly in the bottom of the seventh, putting runners on second and third with two outs. But Roberts bore down and struck out the final batter of game.
“I couldn’t tell if I was tired,” said Roberts, who will pitch at Marshalltown Community College next year. “My arm got numb after the fifth inning. I was just trying to throw strikes.”
Dontrell Rush, a John A. Logan Junior College recruit who’s one of the top outfield prospects in the state, finished 2-for-4 with a run-scoring single in Harlan’s big five-run third inning.
“We came out determined this season,” said Rush. “Every day was intense. Our seniors stepped up today. This is what I’ve dreamed about my whole high school career.”
Left fielder Darvon Sylvan went 3-for-4 with two runs and a two-run triple in the third inning, and Kevin Johnson also had two hits and an RBI. Freshman catcher Christian Bland also had a run-scoring triple in Harlan’s third inning.
Simeon, which was favored to win the city title, scored four runs on four hits in the fourth inning to tie the game at 6-6. Brown, a junior right-fielder, delivered the big blow with a two-run single. Sophomore center fielder Corey Ray went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, and third baseman Malik Simmons, who’s one of two seniors in the Wolverines’ lineup, went 3-for-4 with two RBI.
“I am so disappointed,” said Leroy Franklin, who won his 700th game this season. “We were a better team than them, but what it came down to was they wanted it more than us.”