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Lemont's Ryan Folliard connects for the game-winning two-run single against Sacred Heart-Griffin. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
The Class 3A state championship game between No. 2 Lemont and Sacred Heart-Griffin had all the elements of being an instant classic.
Two of the top-ranked teams in the state with high-level players all over the field. Two undefeated pitchers on the mound, both carrying sub-one ERAs and pitching their respective teams into a scoreless tie heading into the seventh inning.
But the exhilarating finish of it all made for one of the most memorable championship games in recent history when Ryan Folliard lined a two-out, two-run single up the middle in the bottom of the seventh to lift Lemont to a 2-1 victory Saturday at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
“This is unreal. To be able to come through in that position … oh man,”Folliard said. “My mouth was dry, I was licking my lips, but I was ready.”
The Indians' first championship in the school’s first state appearance seemed improbable at best, despite an incredible pitching performance by senior left-hander Jake Latz. After the Cyclones (38-4) scored an unearned run in the top of the seventh, Lemont (35-5) made two quick outs against junior left-hander Ben McElwee (9-1).
Down to the final out, junior third baseman Mike Gralla, who had committed a costly error in the top of the seventh that led to the Sacred Heart-Griffin run, kept the Indians’ hopes alive with a single. Then McElwee induced Jamie Glista into a weak grounder that the second baseman bobbled. Senior Danny Dowiarz followed with a walk to load the bases, bringing up Folliard, who was 0-for-3 heading to the plate.
When Folliard’s line drive headed to centerfield, two runs scored, igniting a wild celebration at home plate.
“Finally people can’t say that we don’t do anything in the playoffs,” said LSU-bound Mike Papierski, who went 1-for-2 with an intentional walk. “We finally proved we’re the best team in 3A.”
While Folliard delivered the heroic hit, it was the performance of Latz (10-0) who carried Lemont – not only in the game, but every start he took the mound. On Saturday, Latz had his dominant stuff working. He threw a three-hitter, which included a bad-hop single and a misplayed ball in left field. Latz struck out 11 and walked three. All three pitches were on, and when Sacred Heart-Griffin reached third base for the first time in the sixth inning, Latz struck out his third batter of the inning on a 92-mph fastball. In the final three innings, Latz struck out seven.
“We have talked about this all year, that when adversity hits, someone has to pick you up,” said Latz, a LSU recruit who was drafted in the 11th round. “What a way to end it.”
McElwee, a 6-3 junior, matched Latz pitch for pitch, throwing a five-hitter with four strikeouts and three walks. And when Ryne Elvers, the Cyclones' No. 9 hitter, singled up the middle, scoring his sophomore brother Cal, it looked like McElwee had shut down one of the most productive offenses in the state.
“We could have easily given up,” Lemont coach Brian Storako said. “But we didn’t, we stuck with it. We put pressure on them, and that’s been our motto all year.”