CRYSTAL LAKE – Soon after Crystal Lake Central lost the Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional final to Barrington in heartbreaking fashion Saturday, 6-5, its players walked toward the third-base dugout, then received a standing ovation from dozens of fans lined up along the chain-link fence nearby.
The ending was a dramatic one.
A half-inning after the No. 6-seeded Tigers (17-18) celebrated an emotionally charged moment by scoring the game-tying run on Alex Van Witzenburg's two-strike RBI double, the pendulum cruelly swung 180 degrees with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
With Barrington runners on first and second and designated hitter Jake Meyer at the plate, Central third baseman Jeremy Laffoon charged and fielded a tough chopper but overthrew the first baseman.
The error allowed Tyler Acosta, who hit one of two Barrington solo homers on the day, to cross home plate with the winning run from second. Clark Elliott had the other homer leading off the top of the third.
"This one is going to sting quite a bit for a while," said Laffoon, who kept the Tigers in the game with by going 2 for 3 with a pair of singles, a walk, and three RBIs. "It happened. I wish it didn't. But it did, and it's too bad, because we had a lot of momentum prior to that. It would've been great to take them to extra innings. We had them on the ropes."
Tigers senior lefty relief pitcher James Cormier, who entered the game with his team trailing, 5-4, in the bottom of the third, was spectacular out of the bullpen. He struck out nine batters in 3 2/3 innings, yielding the one unearned run that ended the game.
"My heart goes out to Jeremy," Cormier said. "We fought so hard, and for us to have a chance to win in the final inning against the top seed in our regional says so much about the heart of this ballclub. I'm gonna miss these guys so much."
Tigers coach Tom Mueller had words of wisdom for his team in the face of adversity.
"That's one thing we've told these kids since the first day of practice, is that there are going to be things that don't go your way sometimes," Mueller said. "But every time this team faced a difficult situation, they responded with positivity, heart and encouragement instead of negativity.
"Today was no different. These are young men who will do great things in life just because they all have that mindset. We were playing our best baseball of the season going into the state tournament, and that was reflected here today in what was one heck of a baseball game."
Barrington coach Pat Wire tipped his cap to Cormier's sterling effort.
"As the game went on, [Cormier] became a huge problem for us," Wire said. "Without him out there on the mound, we feel like we probably walk away with this game. But he was an absolute game-changer for them. He's a stud, and thankfully for us, we were able to rally to win another close game.
"You never want to get into that habit, but it seems like we're comfortable in tight games in the sixth or seventh innings. We've won a bunch of games that way, including the regional semifinal, when we had to score a slew of runs to come from behind and win. We'll take it."
STAR OF THE GAME
James Cormier, Crystal Lake Central, sr., P
After missing most of the season due to a wrist injury in his throwing hand, Cormier capped his senior year by striking out nine batters in 3 2/3 innings of relief.
8: Players in Crystal Lake Central's starting lineup that reached base safely.
AND ANOTHER THING...
The Tigers weren't short on opportunities as their offense stranded at least one runner on base in all seven innings, and nine total.
Barrington 6, Crystal Lake Central 5
Crystal Lake Central 202 000 1 – 5 11 3
Barrington 212 000 1 – 6 8 0
WP: Holler (1.2P, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 1K). LP: Cormier (3.2IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 3BB, 9K)
Top hitters–Crystal Lake Central: Laffoon 2 for 3 (BB, 3RBI), Van Witzenburg 2 for 4 (2B, RBI), Mensching 1 for 2 (RBI, 2 SAC BUNTS), Welder 2 for 4. Barrington: Acosta 1 for 3 (HR, BB, RBI), Elliott 1 for 3 (HR, RBI, BB), Mitchell 2 for 4 (2B), Zavoli 2 for 3 (RBI), Meyer 1 for 4 (RBI).