No. 7 Providence Hands No. 1 St. Rita First Loss

By Drake Skleba
Senior Writer

NEW LENOX  -  Not a cloud in the sky. Beautiful sunny, blue skies. 70 degree temps. The perfect morning for a crucial Chicago Catholic League Blue Division showdown.

And the home fans at Tom Dedin Field were ultimately treated to No. 7 Providence handing No. 1 St. Rita its first loss of the season, 6-4, thanks in part to some uncharacteristic miscues by the Mustangs (25-1, 9-1).

A scoreless pitchers’ duel between St. Rita’s Max Franklin (5-1) and Providence’s Brent Villasenor (6-0) moved to the bottom of the fifth. Franklin struck out nine Providence batters and allowed just one hit in his four scoreless innings of work. Villasenor relied on his outstanding defense, allowing just two hits in his five scoreless innings of work.

Leading off the bottom of the fifth for Providence was Celtic DH Matt Waznis. Waznis popped a Franklin fastball straight up into the high cloudless sky to St. Rita second baseman Tyler Halas, who fighting the sun dropped it for a two base error.

After that, Franklin lost his composure and walked the next two Celtic batters. After his 10th strikeout of the game, Providence’s Jackson Stulas (1-for-3, RBI, 2 SB) worked Franklin for a bases-loaded walk, forcing in the first run of the game. Mike Madej’s sac-fly made it 2-0. Franklin then proceeded to plunk Zach Pych. With Brendan O’Hara at the plate, he uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Noah O’’Brien with the third Celtic run of the inning. Franklin (4.2 IP. 6R, 1H, 10K, 5BB) walked O’Hara to reload the bases and end his day on the mound.

St. Rita senior Conner McAlilly entered the game and like his predecessor, fell victim of a pop up lost in the sun. Justin Hunniford, a strikeout victim twice of Franklin, hit a another mile-high pop up in the direction of Halas. Halas lost sight of the ball in the sun and Mustang rightfielder Danny Gleaves raced over and made a diving attempt. The ball dropped for a bloop double, clearing the bases and giving the Celtics a 6-0 lead.

“I’ll take it,” Hunniford said. “If the baseball Gods give me a bloop three-run double, I’ll take it. Anything I can do to help us win.”

St. Rita stuck in the top of the sixth against Villasenor on a three-run bomb from centerfielder Shane Peisker. It was Peisker’s second homer of the season.

The never-say-die Mustangs clawed within 6-4 on a two-out RBI single by Gleaves. Mateo Zunica ripped a laser at Stulas at short, who tagged second base for the force to finalize the victory over the Mustangs, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps.

“We were really fired up when we learned St. Rita was number one in the nation,” said Stulas. “We almost defeated them (a 6-5 loss) on Wednesday and got them today.”

Villasenor went the distance for the Celtics, allowing the four runs and five hits with two strikeouts, against the hard-hitting Mustangs, who came into the game with a .398 team batting average.

“I had everything working for me today,” said Villasenor. “All my pitches were good. I’m blessed to have an outstanding defense behind me and they did well all day. A great win for us today.”

Providence will travel to No. 12 Brother Rice (19-6, 7-3) on Monday and be back in New Lenox against the Crusaders on Wednesday.

“Brent (Villasenor) pitched outstanding for us today,” said Providence head coach Mark Smith. “After the three-run homer he told me he did not want to come out of the game and that he was going to finish it. I am so proud of him for the way he battled and finished the game. We work the count, we steal bases and we play great defense. When we do this as we did today, we are very hard to beat.”

St. Rita will by home against No.15 St. Laurence (14-7, 5-5) on Monday and then travel to meet the Vikings in Burbank on Wednesday.

“We didn’t make some plays today that we normally make,” St. Rita coach Mike Zunica said. “We will learn from this. Don’t worry about us. We’re fine.”

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