8:19 PMTuesday, May 24, 2016

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Chargers Win State

Chargers Win State

It was a goal all season long for the Illinois Lutheran baseball team. On June 7 in Peoria, it was mission accomplished. Illinois Lutheran rolled to a 12-2 win over Bluford Webber in the 1A state title game to bring home the ultimate prize.

After a nail-biting 1-0 victory over Argenta-Oreana the day before, the Chargers (27-2) put together a two-pronged attack of pitching and hitting in the finale.

Senior Sam Geraci took the mound of the final time as a Charger, and he did not disappoint. Geraci retired the first nine batters as Illinois Lutheran built up a 7-0 lead. The senior limited the Trojans to two runs, one earned on three hits as he fanned three with no walks over five innings. Jared Buzan came in and struck out the side in the sixth.

"I knew for a long time that we had a special group of players," Geraci said. "Last year, we had that tough regional loss (1-0 to Grant Park), and it has motivated us this season.

"We were not too nervous because we know our ability," Geraci continued. "On the mound, my velocity was down, but I had great location."

Geraci had worked the final inning for a save against A-O on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Chargers enjoyed their best offensive production of the entire state series with the dozen runs.

"We had a little batting practice at 8:00 this morning," Charger coach Mark Kjenstad said. "There was a field by the hotel, and we were hitting whiffle balls."

The contest came to a close in the bottom of the sixth. Mack Newson nailed a lead-off double in center. Evan Henschel lined a shot down the left field line to bring home Newson for the 10-rule mercy rule.

"It was great to drive in that run," Henschel said. "However, it would mean nothing without all the work of my teammates."

Henschel is usual just a defensive player for the Chargers, but Kjenstad had the senior bat in the title game.

"The coaches decided to give Evan a chance into the batting order," Kjenstad revealed. "It was a hunch. There was no better way to get out of a slump."

While Henschel's final hit was the icing on the cake, it was his first hit that ignited the Charger offense.

In the first, Dylan Gould and Geraci led off with singles, but the Chargers could not capitalize on it.

"It was not worry," Gould said. "I knew that we would get runs today."

His prophesy started in the next inning.

With one out, Newson drew a walk. On a steal of second, Henschel lined a shot to right allowing Newson to scamper to third.

"I was trying to steal second, and I heard the ping of the bat," Newson recalled. "I picked the coach and raced to third."

Newson then scored on a wild pitch. Gould (2-for-2, two walks) received a free pass with two outs, and Geraci knocked a double to the centerfield fence to tally Henschel and Gould for a 3-0 cushion.

In the third, Collin Borns started a four-run rally with a triple to center. Borns scored on a wild pitch. The Chargers then used a single by Newson along with three Trojan errors to plate three more runs for a 7-0 edge.

After the Trojans tallied two in the fourth, the Chargers added one in the bottom of the frame. Grant Farmer singled and an RBI fielder's choice by Newson plated Farmer.

"It was great to have a game that you were not living and dying on each pitch," Kjenstad said. "We were relaxed and played better up and down the lineup."

In fifth, pinch hitter John Slager got the Chargers going as the senior laced a single to right. Gould then singled up the middle, and Geraci (3-for-4, 4 RBIs) hammered a triple to the right.

"When we had the hits in the first, I knew that we would hit today," Geraci said.

The Chargers banged out 12 hits. Illinois Lutheran set a 1A title record with two triples and tied the doubles mark with three.

Geraci made it 11-2 when he scored on a sacrifice fly by Farmer, and the Chargers were on the brink of history.

Minutes later, the Chargers were hoisting the ultimate prize in high school sports.

"This is great for our school," principal Joe Archer said. "Reaching this pinnacle is more about the character of our students and coaches. It shows what hard work and dedication can do. This is group of fine young gentleman."

The Chargers then enjoyed a celebration parade throughout Crete ending at the school. The memories for the players and coaches, however, will continue for a lifetime.

For Kjenstad, the joyous weekend continued as he and his wife Jessica were scheduled to fly to the Philippines on Sunday for the adoption of their daughter, Reah.

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