Cuff carries Lions to 4A titleLyons' Connor Cuff throws a pitch to a Providence batter. | Michael DiNovo~For the Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 12, 2011 1:36AM
By his own account, Connor Cuff was no better than an average pitcher his first couple of years of high school.
But on Saturday night, the Lyons senior was as good as it gets. Cuff kept Providence’s big guns silent, pitching a five-hitter to lead the Lions to an 8-3 win in the Class 4A state championship at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
“Freshman and sophomore year, I was pretty mediocre,” said Cuff, who finished 11-0 this season and was 19-0 for his varsity career.
Now the 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander is a Penn recruit who has a fastball that reaches the upper 80s and some offspeed pitches that gave the Celtics (37-4) fits.
“We were out in front of his curveball and changeup,” said Providence slugger Sam Travis, who hit his 17th homer of the season in the first inning and doubled home a run in the sixth. “He kept us off balance.”
That was the plan, which Cuff executed as well as anyone has this spring against the Celtics. “They have a pretty lefty dominated lineup,” he said. “I like to work my changeup; it drops away from lefties. That was definitely my pitch today.”
“Hats off to that pitcher,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “We put pressure on him and he found a way to make big pitches at the right time. ... That’s the best a pitcher has done against us all year long.”
Cuff also hurt Providence at the plate, going 1-for-3 with four RBI. He drove in a run with a groundout in a three-run first, doubled home two runs in the third and hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“I struggled the past three games,” Cuff said. “It was good that I could help myself out today.”
He wasn’t the only big bat for Lyons (37-4), which won its third state title and first since 2003.
Leadoff man Spencer Mahoney singled twice, walked twice and scored three runs, No. 2 hitter Steve Heilenbach was 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, and No. 3 hitter Brian Rodemayor finished 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs and an RBI.
Much of the damage came against Northwestern-bound righty Brandon Magallones (8-3), who gave up five runs (four earned) on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings.
“I don’t think Mags has been hit like that all year,” Smith said.
Travis hit his second first-pitch, first at-bat homer in two days to give Providence a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. But Lyons came back with three in the bottom of the inning on Rodemayor’s RBI single, an error on the same play and Cuff’s infield out.
The pitcher’s two-run double pushed the lead to 5-1 in the third and Mahoney scored on a wild pitch in the fourth to make it 6-1. Providence cut it to 6-3 in the top of the sixth on Travis’ RBI double and Zak Kutsulis’ run-scoring groundout.
But the Lions got those runs back in the bottom of the sixth on a throwing error and Cuff’s sacrifice fly. He then set Providence down in order in the seventh to clinch an unbeaten prep pitching record for hismelf and the state title for the Lions.
“They deserved it,” Smith said. “Tonight they were the better team.”