Sports

Goss: North wins elusive baseball state title

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Plainfield North celebrates its first state baseball championship with a dog pile at Joliet Route 66 Stadium after sophomore Eben Heine struck out the final batter in a 4-3 victory over Huntley.[]

As this high school baseball season progressed, the feeling grew stronger.

This could be the year when a Plainfield school wins the Class 4A state baseball championship.

Still, this is baseball, where there are no guarantees.

The four Plainfield schools joined No. 1 Neuqua Valley as the top five seeds in the Hinsdale South Sectional.

Neuqua reached the sectional final after knocking off Plainfield Central in wet conditions that raised questions about whether the game should have been started at all that day. Plainfield North opposed Neuqua after beating Plainfield East in the semifinals.

With Neuqua carrying a national ranking, North’s 11-3 victory in the sectional final raised eyebrows around the state. To oberservers in our area, though, that merely strengthened the however that this could be the time for a Plainfield state baseball title.

When sophomore right-hander Eben Heine struck out the final Huntley batter Saturday at Joliet Route 66 Stadium, halting the Red Raiders’ two-run rally in the seventh inning, the Tigers had a 4-3 victory and, yes, the state title.

“We got the monkey off our back,” said North coach John Darlington, who through the years has led numerous outstanding teams into the postseason. “But I still believe baseball is the hardest to win.”

North (29-7-1) knocked off Brother Rice, 7-3, in the supersectional and beat Sandburg, 7-3, in the state semifinal to set up the meeting with Huntley.

When you are facing teams of that caliber, after Plainfield East and Neuqua Valley in the sectional, you earned your state championship.

“We did well against Plainfield East and Neuqua Valley and have been hot since,” said junior center fielder Cam Kissel, North’s top hitter. “All those Plainfield teams are really talented, especially East with a pitcher like Andrew Hoffmann.”

The Plainfield schools, plus Minooka, were among the top teams in the Southwest Prairie Conference. Not many conferences sported that sort of depth.

But North had pitcher/left fielder Brady Miller and shortstop Gavin Doyle, two seniors who will room together at Western Michigan, leading the way. They were huge in lifting the Tigers to the top.

Miller pitched the victory against Sandburg, but he also struck out four times. Still, he remained in the cleanup spot and played left field in the title game. All he did was make two outstanding, key catches and blast a sixth-inning solo home run to right-center field off Huntley starter Nick Laxner that made it 4-1 and wound up being the decisive run.

“I play with Laxner in the summer; he’s a great pitcher,” Doyle said. “It was a great comeback for Brady at the plate. He has a short memory. Especially in a big game like this, you have to have a short memory.”

“It’s tough sometime to be so into what you are doing on the mound and then hitting, too,” Miller said of the four-strikeout semifinal.

“Brady pitched his butt off in the semis, and we did not stop,” Darlington said. “He and Gavin have hit some bombs this year.”

As for Miller’s move to left field on non-pitching days, Darlington said, “Last year, Brady played first base and pitched. Early this year, just when conference games were starting, we put Brady in left field when he didn’t pitch and Cal [Cangilla, a senior who had been the designated hitter] became our regular first baseman. That worked out well.”

“It was an amazing job by our seniors,” junior catcher Greg Budig said. “It was a sensational season.”

• Dick Goss can be reached at dgoss@shawmedia.com.