CRESTWOOD — Everything was working perfectly for Coal City Monday night ... until it wasn’t working at all.
The Coalers (34-6) jumped out to a quick first inning lead and held onto it until a furious fourth inning rally crushed their state final aspirations and ended their season in a 6-5 loss to Chicago St. Ignatius College Prep in a Class 3A Super-Sectional.
“After that quick start, we figured we were in a really good position,” said Coal City coach Greg Wills. “We had Keegan (Gagliardo) on the mound, who has pitched exceptionally well for us. But give (St. Ignatius) credit. They adjusted and hit the ball well. They found themselves in positions with guys on base and found the gaps and hit the ball over our heads.”
Coal City was the away team and took full advantage of having to bat first.
After Payton Hutchings launched a triple to right field to lead off the game, Gagliardo followed suit with a triple of his own, to the same spot in right field. to put the Coalers ahead 1-0.
Blake Harseim continued the hit parade as he legged out an RBI single and later scored when Austin Pullara got caught in a rundown before ending up safe at second base via a throwing error, pushing the score to 3-0.
Pullara crossed the dish after Jack Bunton rocketed an RBI single to right field, extending the lead to 4-0 to end the top half.
While the Coalers provided run support, Gagliardo went to work on the mound, giving up just three hits in the first three innings, including an RBI single off the bat of Dominic Fischer.
Jack Bunton’s RBI single in the top of the third pushed the score to a 5-1 Coaler advantage. Little did they know that would be the last run of their season.
After a leadoff double followed by a single put runners on first and third to open the bottom of the fourth, St. Ignatius' Ryan Dziekan pushed both runners across the dish with a two-run triple to straight center field, cutting the lead to 5-3.
Two batters and one out later, Joseph Loftus legged out an infield single to score Dziekan for a 5-4 game.
“In the end, (St. Igantius) played better than we did for the last four innings,” Wills said.
Later in the inning, with two outs, Nicolas Rosa-Palermo gave the Wolfpack the final and deciding 6-5 lead with a two-run double, putting a lid on the Coalers’ season.
“We told the kids to just keep playing the game,” Wills said. “Even after (St. Ignatius) got that big hit to take the lead, we still felt pretty good. Their pitcher wasn’t overpowering, and we felt we could do some things against him. But give him credit. He kept us off-balance and threw strikes. He made us earn bases.”
Gagliardo suffered the loss in five innings of work on the hill. He allowed 10 hits and six earned runs and struck out four batters. He also went 1-for-3 with a triple and an RBI.
Harseim and Austin Friddle finished 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI apiece, and Bunton went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
Leaving a legacy
For nine seniors on this Coaler team, the journey officially has ended. But this group has left their mark in school history.
The 34 wins ties a school record with the 2001 team for most wins in a season. The seniors helped bring back two Interstate Eight Conference championships, back-to-back regional titles for the first time since 2008-09 and the first sectional title since 2008.
“I’ve been with these seniors since they were seven to eight years old,” Wills said. “This group has helped put Coal City baseball back on the map. They were state champions in junior high and sustained that success throughout four years of high school ball. It’s definitely hard to say goodbye to this group, but I’m so proud of them and everything they accomplished.”