OTTAWA — Coal City's Blake Harseim hoped he wouldn't have to pitch Saturday in the championship game of the Class 3A Ottawa Sectional against Joliet Catholic Academy. But, his team needed him on the mound and the senior did what he has done throughout his career.
Whatever it takes to win.
"I just wanted to win," Harseim said after throwing 4 1/3 shutout innings in relief of Payton Hutchings. "We knew they [JCA] were the the team everyone said was the best in the state, and we wanted to beat them."
Harseim played a key role, not only on the mound, but at the plate. And, he was not alone.
The Coalers (34-5) jumped on JCA's Notre Dame-bound lefty Aidan Tyrell quickly, scoring a run in a span of three pitches. Hutchings hit the first pitch he saw for a double to lead off the bottom of the first, and Keegan Gagliardo pulled a 1-0 pitch down the right-field line for a double that scored Hutchings.
JCA answered with a run in the top of the second. With two outs, Tony Fleischauer was hit by a pitch and then Max Cullen doubled him home to tie it at 1. In the top of the third, Tyrell and Simon Grashoff were each hit by a pitch and Greg Ziegler drove them both home with a triple to left-center. That hit prompted Coal City coach Greg Wills to replace Hutchings with Harseim on the mound, with sophomore Jack Bunton taking Harseim's spot at shortstop. Harseim got out of the inning with a fly out to center.
The score remained 3-1 until the bottom of the fifth. Hutchings led off with a single to center, and Gagliardo walked. Harseim then singled to score Hutchings and make the score 3-2. A walk to Austin Pullara loaded the bases, and another walk to Brendan Nevin brought Gagliardo home with the tying run and chased Tyrell in favor of Zach Gould. Gould struck out the first batter he faced, bringing up Austin Friddle.
Friddle hit a grounder to third, and JCA's Christian Knapczyk threw home. The throw was low and got away from Grashoff, and both Harseim and Pullara came around to score to make it 5-3 and put runners on second and third. Bunton stepped to the plate and lined a double over Tyrell's head in left to plate both Nevin and Friddle for a 7-3 Coaler advantage.
"We made some mistakes, but we aren't going to let one game define our season," JCA coach Jared Voss said. "These kids had a very impressive year and we don't want them to lose sight of that. I am very proud of them.
"Coal City is a good team and they swung the bat well. We liked our chances when we got Hutchings off the mound and had a two-run lead for Aidan, but it didn't go our way."
Harseim then made the lead stand, as he allowed just two hits in his 4 1/3 innings and did not allow a JCA runner past first base. He also hit a double to lead off the bottom of the sixth and went to third on a fly out by Pullara, but was thrown out at home on a grounder by Nevin.
"Blake had a great game," Wills said. "He's a senior, and he was our leader today. We sometimes hesitate to put him on the mound because he means so much to our defense at short, but he threw the heck out of it when we needed him to.
"Jack Bunton came through with that big hit. We knew he could swing the bat, but it's been hard to get him into the lineup. Also, Sean Micetich played awesome at third base today. Everyone made the plays they had to."
Coal City advances to the Crestwood Supersectional on Monday at 5 p.m., when they will play the winner of Chicago Brooks and Chicago St. Ignatius.