Providence Captures Second Consecutive Class 4A State Title

By Ryan Quigley
Illinois Scouting Director  

JOLIET, IL – Providence Catholic battled back, trailing for a majority of the game, capturing their second consecutive Class 4A State Championship thanks to an RBI walk-off line drive single off the bat of junior second baseman Mike Madej in the bottom of the eighth inning to win 6-5 over fellow CCL-Blue conference member Mount Carmel on Saturday afternoon at Silver Cross Field.

“I smiled at them and asked them if they needed to hear the same speech from the last inning, and then said ‘let’s go’”, said Providence coach Mark Smith.

Providence trailed 5-4 entering the bottom of the eighth, with no easy road against Mount Carmel hard throwing senior closer Scott Kapers, on in his second inning of relief. Junior designated hitter Jackson Dvorak led off the inning with a single to right field, and the Celtics put runners on first and second when junior Tom Kelley attempted to sacrifice bunt, leading to a controversial call along the first base line.

The Celtics were on the wrong end of a bang-bang call at first base in the seventh, but this time the call went there way. Mount Carmel (36-5) senior first baseman Malik Carpenter fielded Kelley’s bunt alongside the first base line, and when he attempted to tag Kelley the ball jarred loose. Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry argued to no avail that Kelley had extended his arms on the play (a-la Alex Rodriguez against the Red Sox), but the call stood, giving the Celtics two runners on with no outs.

Kelley said about the collision, “I knew I had to get the sac-bunt down, and once I did I put my head down and ran as hard as I could, I didn’t intentionally run into him, but we’ll take it”.

A wild pitch by Kapers moved runners to second and third, setting the stage for last night’s offensive hero, senior centerfielder Matt Diehl. Diehl doubled home the Celtics only run in last night’s 1-0 victory over OPRF.

Diehl drove a 2-2 pitch from Kapers on a line into right field, which Mount Carmel senior rightfielder Nick Wheeler nearly dove and caught, but trapped in the process. Dvorak scored from third on the play to tie the game at five, but Wheeler’s play did prevent Kelley from getting a good jump at second base, so he only advanced to third.

With the infield pulled in, Diehl took second base, placing runners at second and third, still with no outs. Junior second baseman Mike Madej fouled off several pitches from Kapers, working the count to 2-2, until he launched the walk-off winner to deep centerfield over the head of Louisville-bound Josh Stowers, making the Celtics the first repeat large school state champion in 56 years (since Des Plaines Maine in ‘58-‘59).

The fact that the Celtics stayed in the game was largely due to the efforts of junior relief pitcher Noah O’Brien. O’Brien relieved senior Jake Carlsen with one out in the fourth, as the Caravan erupted for four runs on three consecutive hits from the bottom of the order.

Carpenter walked to lead off the top of the fourth, then advanced to third on freshman Alek Thomas’ line drive single to center. A fielder’s choice groundout by junior shortstop Jeremy Houston scored Carpenter from third, tying the game at 1-1. Consecutive singles by Kapers and sophomore designated hitter Bobby Seymour (Seymour’s an RBI to center scoring Houston) pushed the lead to 2-1. Nick Wheeler, the senior nine-hole hitter, promptly doubled to left center, scoring Kapers. Junior leadoff hitter AJ Lewis capped the four run outburst with a sac fly to left, before O’Brien ended the damage inducing a groundout to short with the Caravan lead now 4-1.

Celtics shortstop Jackson Stulas scored the game’s first run on a catcher’s throwing error into center field on a first-and-third delayed steal attempt in the bottom of the first, giving the Celtics an early 1-0 lead.

Providence chipped away in the top of the fourth, cutting the lead to 4-2 on an RBI-groundout to second base by Dvorak, scoring senior first baseman Justin Hunniford, who walked earlier in the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, Hunniford, the Celtics senior leader who’s now won three consecutive state championships in three seasons (spring baseball in 2014 and fall football in 2014 as the Providence quarterback) singled up the middle to center. After Hunniford was sacrificed to second by Zach Pych, Dovrak lined out to left field for the second out of the inning. Junior right fielder Tom Kelley smoked a ball into left field to score Hunniford and cut the Caravan lead to 4-3.

With the lead Mount Carmel elected to lift senior ace Nelson Munoz, in favor of senior catcher/closer Scott Kapers. Munoz earned a save pitching two innings of one-hit baseball in last night’s 5-2 semifinal victory over Jacobs.

“Nelson gave us everything he had and then some. He wanted the ball today and he kept asking for another inning. It was more than we expected and more than we wanted him to go, but he battled”, said Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry.

Munoz finished his six innings of work scattering seven hits, allowing three runs with five strikeouts and three walks.

Kapers relieved Munoz to finish off the game in the bottom of the seventh, and when the Valparaiso bound closer came in firing 88-90 mph bullets, it looked as though the Celtics may be fighting an uphill battle in their request for a repeat.

Diehl singled sharply past second base to lead off the inning, then advanced to second on Madej’s sharp single to right. Jackson Stulas bunted back to Kapers, who initially attempted to go to third, but thought better of it and threw an off-balance lob to first, that it appeared Stulas both beat, and dragged Carpenter off that bag at first. The first base umpire called Stulas out, and after a brief argument, the call stood.

An intentional walk loaded the bases, and then Kapers struck out cleanup hitter Jim Jeffries on an elevated fastball to bring Hunniford up to the plate, one out away from the state title.

Hurry added, “There was a lot of momentum shifts, I credit Scott to holding them down and pushing it to extras and we were actually one out away from ending it there in the seventh”.

A four-pitch walk to Hunniford scored Diehl and tied the game at four, breathing life into the Celtics repeat quest. Kapers induced a fielder’s choice groundout to third to end the Providence rally, setting the stage for an exciting back-and-forth-eighth.

Mount Carmel wasted no time in the top half of the inning, as Stowers doubled down the left field line to lead off. Carpenter followed with a hard hit groundball up the middle, past a diving Stulas, to score Stowers and help the Caravan regain the lead at 5-4. O’Brien bowed his neck one more time, getting a strikeout on a breaking ball down in the zone for the second out of the inning, and getting a fielder’s choice groundout to Stulas to limit the damage.

All told O’Brien spun 4.2 innings of two-hit, one-run relief to earn the win for the Celtics, improving to 4-0 on the year. “All playoffs I’ve known to be ready at any time, I wanted to back up Jake (Carlsen). It was nerve wracking initially, but I settled down quickly”, said O’Brien.

Smith added, “We had Justin (Hunniford) ready to go, but Noah was doing a good job and found a way, giving us a chance to come back.”

O’Brien’s solid relief set the stage for Madej’s heroics in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Celtics their second consecutive Class 4A State Championship, in a game that pitted to Catholic League-Blue rivals.

Hurry said, “It was a hard fought game. I have a lot of respect for Providence’s program and the way they do things.”

Smith added on the CCL-Blue finals, “It’s the best conference in the state, no question, one-through-six with the depth of talented teams. I think six of the last seven state championships have included a team from the Blue”.

Providence wrote the final chapter to its storybook run, winning five consecutive games by one run, including last night’s 1-0 State Semifinal thriller over OPRF. The Celtics ended the 2015 campaign 31-11, perhaps relishing the underdog role they have assumed over the last two years come playoff time.

Kelley added, “We have no superstars, and people may have doubted us because of the guy’s we lost last year, but we battled and it was a different guy every day stepping up”.

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