JOLIET – Providence baseball could not be denied.
The Celtics proved it twice more this weekend. They reached the Class 4A championship game for the second straight season late Friday night when they outlasted Oak Park-River Forest, 1-0, in the second semifinal at Silver Cross Field.
That guaranteed a second straight all-Chicago Catholic Blue final. Last year, Providence stunned St. Rita, 4-1, to win the state title. This time, the Celtics overcame Mount Carmel, 6-5, in eight innings in the final. Mount Carmel downed Jacobs, 5-2, in the other semifinal.
Providence senior right-hander Brent Villasenor threw a fast-paced two-hitter Friday and No. 9 hitter Matt Diehl doubled home the only run in the bottom of the fifth inning to beat Oak Park. That’s the same Matt Diehl who had a walk-off hit against Marist in the sectional.
“Considering the stage this was on, this one was pretty special,” Diehl said.
On the seventh pitch of the key at-bat, he hit a 3-2 fastball from hard-luck loser Hank Christie for the two-out double to the right-center field gap to score Zach Pych, who was hit by a pitch to open the inning and was sacrificed to second by Jackson Dvorak.
“I knew I hit it in a good spot as far as being between them [the outfielders], but I didn’t know if I hit it far enough to fall,” Diehl said. “I was looking for a fastball. They didn’t want to walk me and pitch to Mike [Madej, the leadoff hitter].”
In a touch of irony, the Celtics won their supersectional, 4-3, over O’Fallon when four consecutive hits batsmen in the seventh inning produced the eventual winning run. This time, a hit batsman led to the only run.
“Yeah, that’s right, the hit batsman scored,” Diehl said. “I don’t know how we do it, but we scratch and scratch and find a way.”
The win was Providence’s fourth straight by one run. The title-game victory made it five straight.
“Good teams create their breaks, and we played darn well,” Celtics coach Mark Smith said. “These kids never cease to amaze me. You can never count them out. They don’t panic. That’s something you can’t teach.”
Both pitchers faced the minimum nine batters through three innings and were working on no-hitters. Oak Park had its only hits in the top of the fourth, but Providence catcher Jimmy Jeffries gunned down a potential base stealer at second to help Villasenor get out of the inning without an issue.
“That throw was huge,” Smith said.
Madej singled leading off the bottom of the fourth for the first Providence hit, and Jackson Stulas sacrificed him to second. Matt Waznis reached when his sky-high popup fell just fair behind third for an error, but the next two hitters were retired.
Diehl drove home the run in the fifth and the Celtics threatened again in the sixth when Stulas walked leading off and Waznis sacrificed. Christie escaped, but Villasenor set down the side in order in the seventh to end it.
“In the first couple innings, I could see it was going to be a pitchers’ duel,” Villasenor said. “I have confidence in our offense, but just the way the game was flowing, I had to make sure they didn’t have opportunities. I got on a roll and it was moving quick, the way I like it.”
Villasenor struck out seven and walked two. He threw 97 pitches. Oak Park stranded two runners.
“It was a great game,” Smith said. “It was a great pitched game on both sides and both teams played very well defensively. Diehl got the big hit and Brent [Villasenor] pounded the strike zone. He got in a great rhythm. He was working quick. When he found that rhythm, it all clicked.”
The defensive gems, in addition to Jeffries throwing out a base stealer, included second baseman Madej’s leaping grab of a line drive, first baseman Hunniford smothering a hot smash to end the fifth inning with a runner in scoring position and a steady, solid effort from Stulas at shortstop.
The handful of Celtics who also play football claimed their third state champions in three seasons, having won 4A baseball last spring and 7A football last fall.
“It’s been great the past year at Providence,” Hunniford said. “The exact date we won last year is June 14. That will be a year. It’s been a blessing.”