Baseball: Oak Park-River Forest cruises past Grant in state semiGrant’s catcher Simeon Lucas shows the ump the ball after tagging out Oak Park River Forest’s Matt McCormack
Friday at the IHSA class 4 A semifinals in Joliet, June, 8, 2012.| Ray Luna ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 8, 2012 8:27PM
Oak Park-River Forest lived on the edge during its run to the Class 4A state semifinals, winning a string of narrow contests. On Friday, the Huskies gave themselves some wiggle room, putting the pressure on upstart Grant early en route to an 8-2 victory at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
The win sends Oak Park (29-9-1) to the Class 4A state championship game on Saturday against the winner of Lyons and Minooka. The Huskies, making their 13th state appearance, will look to win their first state title since 1981.
“It was the first playoff game we got out early and stayed in control,” said Oak Park coach Chris Ledbetter, who has guided the Huskies to second-place finishes in 2001 and 2008. “It was the first time we got to relax a little.”
Before the fans could settle in, Oak Park jumped out to a 2-0 advantage. Center fielder Zach Weigel took a fastball off the shoulder the first pitch of the game. The next pitch, catcher Jack Picchiotti laced a single, and then an error scored Weigel. Sophomore right fielder Alex Rice drove in Picchiotti to make it 2-0.
“Right away, they had the bases loaded in a blink of an eye,” said Grant senior right-hander Zack Helmich, who finished 11-2.
Oak Park, which pounded out 10 hits, got contributions up and down the lineup. Junior first baseman Nick Kowalczuk went 2-for-4 with a two-run single in the fourth inning that staked the Huskies to a 5-0 advantage. Left fielder Matt McCormack went 3-for-4 with a run-scoring double, and senior third baseman Mike Brennan contributed two RBI, two runs and a hit.
Senior right-hander Joe McKune (7-2) handled the rest. McKune threw a six-hit complete game, finishing with three strikeouts and three walks.
“I thought if we could settle in the first inning, it would make things a little easier playing with a lead,” Ledbetter said. “When Joe (McKune) is nice and calm, he doesn’t get beat.”
Grant (25-12), making its first appearance in the state semifinals, couldn’t rebound from its poor start. Sophomore catcher Simeon Lucas was a definite bright spot. The left-handed hitter went 3-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI. Tino Torres added two hits and drove in a run in the seventh inning.