Improbable Champions: Lisle wins Class 2A state title



By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

PEORIA, IL – Call it improbable. Call it surprising. Perhaps even shocking. But whatever you call Lisle’s run to the Class 2A state championship, no one can say it wasn’t well-deserved.

The Lions first upset perennial powerhouse Teutopolis to get to the championship game. And once there, Lisle left little doubt who the unquestionable state champion was, by crushing Pleasant Plains 10-1 on Saturday night at Dozer Park.

Not bad for a team that had lost four of its last six games heading into the playoffs.

“I can’t even describe it in words,” said senior left-handed pitcher Alex Ventrella, who earned the win. “This has to be the most incredible story ever. We’re like, what, five-thousandth in the country? I don’t even know what we’re ranked in the state. I don’t even know what to say.”

Indeed, Lisle’s first baseball state championship was filled with ups and downs along the way of its 23-10-1 season. But one thing is for sure: the Lions were clearly the superior team was Saturday night.

Unfazed by a lengthy rain delay prior to the game’s start, Lisle came out firing on all cylinders, pounding out seven hits in the first inning to mount a 6-0 lead. Junior second baseman Cliff Krause got the party started immediately when he rapped the first pitch from Pleasant Plains left-hander Taylor Staff for a single. Senior centerfielder Ryan Van Volkenburg and Brian Czyl each singled to load the bases. Junior shortstop Kevin Coppin, who delivered the game-winning the hit against Teutopolis in the semifinals, came through again, this time with a two-run single over the first-base bag.

After another hit by senior right fielder Adam Grego, Pleasant Plains coach Dave Greer went to the pen, but the hits didn’t stop. Senior DH Jordan Herman greeted the new pitcher with a RBI single, and then No. 9 hitter, senior left fielder Bailey Welch, dealt the final blow of the inning, a two-run double to left-center field.

When it was all said and done, the Lions sent 10 batters to the plate and had effectively sapped all the suspense from the game.

“We were due,” said Van Volkenburg, who defeated Teutopolis, 2-1, on Friday. “After Cliff got on with that first hit, I knew it was going to be a good day.”

The Lions put the game completely out of reach in the fourth, this time thanks to two Pleasant Plains pitchers, who combined to walk three batters, and Oard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Grego also registered a sacrifice fly for an RBI. Lisle scored four runs on one hit – a Czyl single – and comfortably led 10-1.

Lisle finished the game with nine hits against six Pleasant Plains pitchers.

“This is huge,” said Coppin. “We’ve never been here before so we didn’t know what to expect.”

The contributions were plentiful for Lisle. Czyl went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored, while Coppin went 1-for-1 with three walks – including one intentional – with two RBI and a run. Welch added two hits and two RBI, and Oard had two RBI.

Ventrella yielded four hits and one run – none earned – with two strikeouts, no walks and hit two batters to improve to 7-1. Junior right-hander Jeremy Glavanovits pitched two scoreless innings to put the finishing touches on the Lions’ championship run.

The Lions knocked off two of the state’s most storied small-school programs on the weekend. In the semifinals, they upended Teutopolis, which was the heavy favorite to win its third Class 2A title in four years. And Pleasant Plains, under guide of Hall of Fame coach Dave Greer, was making its sixth state appearance and gunning for its second title since 2000.

“I told the kids that anything can happen in the playoffs,” said Lisle coach Pete Meyer. “I told them you play the season for the playoffs. … Those kids competed like champions and they are champions.”

Pleasant Plains, too, had a tough road to the title game. The Cardinals were trailing 2-0 in the fifth inning to Eureka on Friday night before rain and lightning postponed the contest to 9 a.m Saturday morning. Had there been one more out in the fifth, it would’ve been an official game. Given new life, Pleasant Plains rallied for four runs in the final two innings to advance the championship game.

In the Class 2A third-place game, Teutopolis crushed Eureka 7-0 in a five-inning contest. Senior right-hander Jared Waldoff, a Kaskaskia JC recruit, yielded two hits, struck out six and walked one.

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