Providence's Playoff Magic Continues, Downs No. 2 Plainfield North In 4A Semifinal



By Sean Duncan
Executive Director

JOLIET, IL –After three straight years of pulling out games in the final innings, Providence’s playoff magic sounds like a tired storyline, almost cliché, as the Celtics make their run to IHSA history.

But winning games – and ultimately championships – never gets old, especially in the fashion that the Celtics have done.

So when two-time defending champion Providence entered the seventh inning tied with No. 2 Plainfield North in a Class 4A state semifinal, you just knew the Celtics would deliver some sort of heroic finish, regardless of the strength of Plainfield North’s pitching.

Providence scored three runs in the top of the seventh to pull out a 7-4 victory and advance to the Class 4A state championship game at Silver Cross Field, where it will attempt to capture its unprecedented third straight state championship.

“We’re so calm as a team,” said senior left fielder Matt Waznis, who delivered the big two-run single in the seventh. “We just have so much confidence in each other.”

Waznis, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBI, was one of five sophomores starting when the Celtics (32-9) first began their magical playoff streak in 2014. But he was far from the only hero during Friday night’s victory against a Plainfield North (33-4) squad that had won 28 of its last 29 games entering Friday.

It all started when pinch-hitter Drew Hunniford legged out a one-out infield single. Senior centerfielder Kevin Fitzgerald then followed with a sharp single to right field, advancing Hunniford to third base. Senior shortstop Jackson Stulas broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly to center field, making it 5-4.

Senior second baseman Mike Madej, the team’s most clutch performer over the last three years, then turned on an 89-mph fastball from junior Arizona State-bound Brady Corrigan to centerfield, Madej’s second extra-base hit of the game.

With runners on second and third, Plainfield North coach John Darlington went to his pen, bringing in another hard-throwing junior right-hander, Connor Peplow. Peplow, an athletic 6-foot-2, 155-pound Illinois State recruit, came out hot, feeding Waznis a steady diet of 90-92 mph fastballs. Unfazed, Waznis fouled off several pitches, working a full count, before he deposited a 90-mph fastball for a two-run single.

Senior right-hander Matt Trzesniewski – the fourth Providence pitcher - closed out the seventh to secure the Celtics’ fourth trip to the state title game in six years (they also finished runner-up in 2011).

“I know they’re not going to quit,” said Providence coach Mark Smith, whose team finished tied for third in the rugged Chicago Catholic Blue conference this season. “Do you think they’re going to do it every time? No.

“They’re grinders. They’re not flashy. They just play and have love and belief in each other.”

Plainfield North was the Prep Baseball Report’s preseason No. 1 team thanks to an impressively deep and talented pitching staff. And it showed. The Tigers entered the game with 10 shutouts, including a 2-0 win over St. Laurence in the supersectionals.

Think Providence cared?

Fitzgerald led off the game with a double off Corrigan (10-2), and scored on Madej’s triple to centerfield. Madej later scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0 before the packed crowd at Silver Cross field could settle in.

“They were definitely way more aggressive than any team I faced this year,” said Corrigan, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who’s one of the top pitching prospects in the Midwest.

Plainfield North got a run back in the first inning on Tyler Garrity’s single. Providence extended its lead to 4-1 in the third on a Waznis run-scoring single, and Madej, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on another wild pitch.

But Plainfield North bounced right back when Northern Illinois-bound catcher Jake Dunham blasted a three-run homer to left-center field off Providence starter Connor Creed.

The game remained deadlocked at 4-4 until Providence produced its typical seventh-inning magic.

Madej, a switch-hitting Purdue recruit, finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored, and Fitzgerald went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.

For Plainfield North, Dunham went 2-for-4 with three RBI, and Josh Garner added a pair of hits.

Corrigan settled down after the first inning. He pitched predominately in the 87-88 range, touching 89 on occasion, to go along with at times a wicked 78-82 mph slider.

Providence will now play the winner of Mundelein-St. Charles North at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Class 4A state championship.

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