No. 7 Providence Rallies Past No. 15 O'Fallon The Hard Way

By Ryan Quigley
Illinois Scouting Director

NORMAL, IL – Providence Catholic junior second baseman Mike Madej had never seen four straight hitters get hit with a pitch before, but Monday’s Super-Sectional matchup between the No. 7 Celtics and No. 15 O’Fallon was full of unusual occurrences.

Madej said, “I’ve never seen that (the four HBP’s) before, but then again I’ve never seen a field covered in hail before the game and we were ready to play twenty minutes later. I wasn’t thinking about getting hit by a pitch, I was trying to figure out how their starting pitcher was back in the game.”

Weather in the northern part of Illinois delayed several Super-Sectional contests, but Providence (29-11) and O’Fallon started on time thanks to the field-turf at the Corn Crib despite nasty pregame weather in the Normal area on Monday night.

Madej was hit by a pitch from O’Fallon (30-10) starter Chris Holba, who was pitching in relief (…yes we’ll get to that in a moment) in the top of the seventh inning, giving the Celtics a hard fought 4-3 victory in a back-and-forth affair. The win sends the 2014 Class 4A champions back to Joliet to defend their crown.

Providence designated hitter Jackson Dvorak led off the seventh with the game tied at 3-3 and was hit by O’Fallon reliever Kyle VanBevern, who had relieved Holba in the sixth. Junior right fielder Tom Kelley was hit by a pitch with two strikes, after attempting to sacrifice bunt earlier in the count. With no outs and runners on first and second, O’Fallon skipper Jason Portz elected to bring Holba back to the mound from third base. Holba subsequently hit the next two batters he faced, senior outfielder Matt Diehl, and finally Madej, which gave Providence the winning run.

With the bases still loaded, the East Carolina-bound Holba found his groove, inducing a fly out and a huge 6-4-3 double play ball, but the damage was done. Providence senior righthander Justin Hunniford (5-1) slammed the door, earning the victory with 1.2 innings of scoreless relief.

The first five innings featured both starters working out of jams. Providence senior righthander Jake Carlsen stranded five runners in the first three innings, and finished his outing going 5.1 innings, allowing three runs on five hits, with four strikeouts and one walk.

The Celtics broke through against Holba in the top of the third, with Madej spearheading the charge. With two outs Diehl started the rally with a line drive single to center on a first pitch fastball. Madej followed with a triple into the left field corner, scoring Diehl and giving Providence a 1-0 lead.

O’Fallon answered with two runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, thanks to clutch hitting from the bottom part of the lineup. With one out, senior seven-hole hitter Jackson Penrod singled to left field. Junior shortstop Camden Bauer (Alabama commit) followed with a double down the left field line to put runners at second and third. VanBevern singled hard to left scoring Penrod, and junior leadoff man Dillon Weiss capped the scoring with a sac fly to left.

Providence shortstop Jackson Stulas led off the top of the sixth with walk against Holba, and junior left fielder Matt Waznis chased O’Fallon’s ace for the first time with an RBI double down the line into the right field corner. Both teams struggled at times corralling the baseball in the outfield corners at the Corn Crib, with tough angles and the artificial turf giving way to a crushed brick warning track. Junior third baseman Zach Pych lifted a sacrifice fly to left to score Waznis and give the Celtics a short-lived 3-2 lead.

O’Fallon’s bottom part of the order came through again in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at three. Senior catcher Jacob Holl launched a ground rule double to left with one out that chased Carlsen from the game. Hunniford relieved, inducing a fly out to the first hitter he faced. Down 1-2 in the count, Camden Bauer lifted a breaking ball over Madej’s head at second base into shallow right center, scoring Holl. Junior catcher Jim Jeffries cut down Bauer attempting to steal at second to end the inning, and set the stage for Providence’s seventh inning rally.

Hunniford retired O’Fallon in order in the seventh to preserve the victory, excelling on the big stage just as he did in leading the Celtics to a State Championship in football this fall. “I’ve been in situations like that before, so there’s no need to get nervous. Football prepared me for being in pressure situations and definitely helps me get through it”.

Bauer led O’Fallon offensively going 2-for-2 with the RBI in the sixth, a walk, and a run scored. All told, Holba threw six total innings scattering five hits and three runs with two strikeouts and three walks.

The Celtics are vying to become the first baseball program in Illinois to repeat as state champions in the last 47 years. Hunniford added, “Coach Smith told us that at the beginning of the year, so 47 has been our motto all year long”.

Providence will take on No. 6 Oak Park-River Forest (31-7) on Friday at 5 pm at Silver Cross Field in Joliet, the second of two Class 4A State Semifinals. Jacobs will meet the winner of Mount Carmel and Plainfield North beforehand at 3 pm.

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