JOLIET – If the supply of superlatives to describe the Providence Catholic baseball team has not been exhausted, it will be soon.
Those amazing Celtics, who are bidding for a record third straight state championship, scored three runs in the seventh inning Friday to break a 4-4 tie and beat Plainfield North, 7-4, in the all-Joliet area semifinal of the Class 4A State Tournament at Silver Cross Field.
The Celtics will face either Mundelein or St. Charles North in Saturday's 7 p.m. title game. North will play at 5 p.m. in the third-place game.
"This was a great baseball game between two very good teams," Providence coach Mark Smith understated. "I'm proud of our kids."
With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Providence's Drew Hunniford, in a pinch-hitting role, beat out a high chopper over the mound despite the effort of Tigers shortstop Zach Jarosz. Kevin Fitzgerald, who had doubled to open a two-run first inning for the Celtics (32-9), singled to right-center field, and Jackson Stulas broke the tie with a sacrifice fly to center field.
"I was fortunate to get an at-bat," Hunniford said. "I was just trying to get on base. It wasn't the best hit, but everything counts, right?"
With a crowd of 2,123 on the edge of its collective seat, North (33-4) had the top of the batting order due up in the bottom of the seventh inning and still was very much in the hunt. However, Providence's Mike Madej, who had tripled home a run and scored a run in the first inning as the Celtics grabbed a 2-0 lead, doubled to put runners on second and third.
Connor Peplow relieved North starter Brady Corrigan and on his ninth pitch to Matt Waznis, the senior cleanup hitter singled to right field to drive in two huge insurance runs and account for the final score.
"Drew (Hunniford) getting the infield hit was big and so was Fitz (Fitzgerald) getting the big hit," Smith said. "Stulas got the sacrifice fly to put us ahead, and any time we have Mikey (Madej) and Waznis coming up, I'm confident."
Corrigan (10-2), who had allowed only three hits through six innings, walked two and struck out three.
Providence starter Connor Creed struck out eight of the first nine outs but was touched for four earned runs in four innings. Three of those came on one swing as Jake Dunham launched a three-run home run after Jarosz's bloop double and a walk to Justin Yeager in the fourth. Tyler Garrity has singled home a run in the first inning to get the Tigers within 2-1, but the Celtics tacked on two more in the third on a wild pitch and Waznis' RBI single.
"They (Celtics) were way more aggressive than anyone has been against me all year," Corrigan said. "They came out swinging the bats. In the third inning, I was throwing the ball all over the place. After that, it was OK."
Tyler Zarembka, Noah O'Brien and Matt Trzesnewski worked a scoreless inning each for Providence. O'Brien (3-0) earned the victory and Trzsnewski the save.
North did manage to get the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. Yeager and Josh Garner singled, but in between, Dunham's bloop fell in right field, only to have the Celtics' Tom Kelley gun down Yeager for a forceout at second. The game ended when Garrity rapped into a 1-6-4 fielder's choice, with Stulas making a nice play to end it.
""We had our chances," North coach John Darlington said. "We did not get a couple of key hits that we needed. They got the dribbler to start their big inning, and then we have the blooper and our runner gets caught in no-man's land.
"That's baseball. I knew we weren't going to roll over when they got the early lead, but I really thought we would hit better than we did."
Dunham not only blasted the three-run homer, but he sent Kelley to the warning track in front of the porch in right for his fly ball in the fifth inning, when the Tigers wound up stranding two runners and leaving the scvore 4-4.
"On the home run, there were runners on second and third and I was trying for a single," Dunham said. "I didn't think I hit it as well as it wound up looking. On the fly to right, it was a hit-and-run and I thought I hit it pretty well. I just got under it a little."