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Lincoln-Way East endures for key conference win

NEW LENOX – Very little about Saturday’s matchup between Lincoln-Way East and Lockport went the way either team expected.

A biting wind coupled with frigid temperatures led many to believe offense likely would be limited and the two high-cailber teams would end up in a low-scoring duel rather than the 15-7 victory by the Griffins.

“This was a test of willpower,” Lincoln-Way East coach Eric Brauer said. “We were behind early and there was nothing really going our way. We made a lot of mistakes, they made a lot of mistakes. I applauded our guys after the game for the mental effort, intensity and focus that we displayed for three hours. That’s a long game. To stay locked in, that says something.”

Things looked like they might be going south early for the Griffins when the Porters pounced during their half of the third inning. Lockport got two walks and singles from Nolan and John Weis before an out was recorded and that allowed them to tie the game at three. But it looked like the Griffins might be wiggling off the hook as they coaxed a double play.

But that third out proved elusive. Collin Woulfe roped a double, then Josh Bentley reached on an error. Lockport scored runs on both plays and then Jackson Mladic and Alex Martinez both connected for singles that scored two more Porter runs.

In all, Lockport would send 11 batters to the plate in the inning and scored six runs to take what appeared to be a somewhat commanding 7-3 lead.

A downtrodden Lincoln-Way East (15-3) squad might have been expected after the developments of the top of the third, but it only seemed to fuel the Griffins’ resolve.

Casey Schilf led off the inning with a single, but then after two outs, it looked as if the Griffins frame would be rather uneventful. But just like the top half of the inning, the third out proved to be elusive.

Lockport (18-3) committed back-to-back errors on the next two batters, allowing Schilf to score and trim the lead to 7-4; and a walk reloaded the bases, setting up a two-run single from Ryan Ritter. Another error extended the inning and scored the tying run. Tyler Safarik then pushed the Griffins in front with an RBI single.

“When we came to the ballpark today, it didn’t feel like a 15-to-7 day, it felt like a 2-1 day or a 3-2 day, and I wouldn’t say either team had a ton of hits,” Brauer said. “I thought offensively we had a lot of grinder at-bats today. We really didn’t give anything away.”

After obtaining the 8-7 lead, the Griffins took the fourth inning off before stacking up more runs, with two in the fifth and five more in the sixth. The do-whatever-it-takes mentality seemed to spread throughout the lineup.

“We just had to have a little bit different approach today,” Griffins shortstop Ryan Ritter said. “I couldn’t have the gap-to-gap approach. I had to put the ball on the ground. Just little hits, that’s how we had to do it today. We’re the kind of team that will get a runner over and get the job done most of the time.”

Ritter finished with two hits on the day, one of four Griffins that piled up multiple hits on the game, as he was joined by Safarik, Schlif and Danny Fitzpatrick in that group.

The conditions led to a rough day for pitchers. Lockport deployed five different pitchers in the contest, none lasting longer than two innings in the cold and wind. Lincoln-Way East used three, but got a herculean effort from Ethan Lambrigger out of the bullpen.

Lambrigger went four-plus innings, finally allowing the Griffins to escape the third inning, and then bore down allowing only one hit and two baserunners over the final four innings.

“It was a huge lift for us,” Brauer said. “We’ve been looking for some answers there, and Ethan just came in a did a fantastic job. He pounded the zone with strikes and he brought good energy for us. It was good to see.”

The two teams won’t have to wait too long to renew the rivalry as the rematch will be contested at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Lockport.

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