JOLIET – Joliet Junior College’s baseball team rallied from a three-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the College of Lake County, 4-4, on Saturday’s Wayne L. King Jr. Day, honoring King, who’s served as a 33-year athletic director and head baseball coach. The veteran hall-of-famer was upbeat as it looked like the Wolves might rally to win his final game at Wayne L. King Jr. Field.
But the member of the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, who won NJCAA Division III titles in 1994, 2008 and 2012, placed second in 1995, 2007 and 2015 and finished third place in 1997 and 2006, watched in dismay as Lake County scored a run in the top of the ninth to capture a 5-4 victory. Next up for JJC (22-20) is the Region IV Regional Tournament, which is May 8-12.
For the Wolves’ success in the three title years, he was named as the NJCAA DIII National Coach of the Year. King was inducted into the Region IV Hall of Fame in 2004 and was inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year that the new field was named after him. In 2015, he was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Lake County (22-18) took advantage of some errors in the first inning to quickly go up, 2-0. In the bottom of the third, the Wolves got a run back to split the lead in half, but the visitors regained the two-run advantage after collecting a run at the top of the fifth inning to claim a 4-3 lead. Jacob Monfre struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth inning to allow just one earned run and seven hits while striking out seven in a complete-game effort.
King resurrected the Wolves’ team across the board and also added a wrestling program several years after it was disbanded. Perhaps his biggest feat was helping to bring about JJC’s new gym as well as locker rooms, a weight room and an athletic training area.
“I’m happy that we’ve got the new arena,” King said. “It’s really going to help out recruiting in all of the sports. I was happy that I got to spend two years in it, and it’s beautiful. It’s top-notch, so it will really help all of the kids. We don’t have a scholarship, so we’re going to get the kids who are close and home, and we’ve been successful with them. I appreciate all of the high school coaches, and we work well with them. This school definitely stands alone, since it’s the first junior college in the country. I’ve enjoyed my time here. We’re going to stay here and work on the golf course and play some more golf, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
In the eighth for JJC, Cody Phillips got a one-out walk before Noah Hibler and Ryan Anderson followed with singles. All three runs came in on errors with Matt Duske at the plate.
The Lancers were led by Jake Harmon (2 for 3, two RBIs) and Kyle Walter (2 for 5, two runs). In the ninth, Jimmy Patock replaced starter Jacob Suchor, who threw the first six innings. Stephen Mogged got hit by a pitch to open the frame, Jaxon Spiegelberg sacrificed him to second and he moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a squeeze by Tony Krueger.
“Obviously it’s an honor to playing for coach King in his last year,” Suchor said. “And especially having all of these local guys who know each other and play against each other. I didn’t have my stuff, but I’m happy with how we battled back. I like our competitiveness.”
Leading the way for the Wolves were Nick Airola (run), Ryan Anderson (2 for 3, run), Brock Bolser (run), Matt Duske (two RBIs), Noah Hibler (run) and Zack Lauras (1 for 3, RBI). Starter Suchor went eight innings and yielded seven hits and four earned runs while striking out three, while reliever Patock took the loss after an earned run during his lone inning of work.
“It’s honor to play for him, and we have a good group of guys here. And we’re all close [with] each other, and coach King works us hard,” Lauras said.