There was no debate in the dugout about who was pitching the bottom of the seventh inning in Saturday’s Class 4A sectional final, according to Loyola head coach Nick Bridich.
Senior right-hander Ben Wagner (pictured above) was finishing what he started.
“No way I was taking the ball away from him,” Bridich said.
After allowing a single to start the seventh, Wagner got three consecutive outs, including a final strikeout to secure the Ramblers’ 9-3 win over Evanston and the program’s first sectional title since 2008 and second overall.
Loyola (23-9-1) will take its eight-game winning streak into Monday’s Schaumburg Supersectional at Boomers Stadium, where the Ramblers will play Huntley. The winner advances to the state semifinals at Joliet’s Route 66 Stadium. Loyola will be looking for its first appearance at the state tournament.
“This is unreal,” Loyola senior catcher Jason Vrbancic said. “I couldn’t picture a better senior season. But we have more to do.”
In seven innings Saturday, Wagner struck out three, allowed nine hits, one unearned run and no walks. It was his second win in two postseason starts.
“I felt pretty locked in,” he said. “I competed and threw strikes.”
Vrbancic said it was Wagner’s best outing of the season.
“He was in control of everything,” Vrbancic said. “I’ve never seen him execute that well, but it wasn’t a shocker.”
Bridich said he had full faith in Wagner to go get the last three outs.
“He’s gutsy,” Bridich said. “Nobody epitomizes Loyola baseball like Ben Wagner. He’s not the most talented guy, but talent has nothing to do with it. I’m really proud of him.”
The Wildkits scored two, two-out runs in the third to take a 2-0 lead. But the Ramblers responded with six runs in the fourth, going ahead 3-2 on senior Trey Torain’s bases-loaded walk.
Senior Dan Hrvojevic, junior Jack Moran and junior Jake Novak all had run-scoring hits during the inning. Senior Matthew Raymond drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
“I was a little nervous after giving up those two runs, but my teammates picked me up,” Wagner said. “That inning was a huge relief.”
Evanston scored one in its half of the fourth before the Ramblers added two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh.
Five Ramblers finished with two hits, including senior Henry Haracz, Hrvojevic, Vrbancic, Novak and Moran. Novak had two RBIs and scored one run. All nine players in the starting lineup reached base at least once.
“Up and down the order, we are able to produce,” Bridich said. “We’re a good offensive club, and our quality at-bats [Saturday] were exceptional.
“We are a balanced club. When we play like we can, we are tough to beat.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola