It was as rough of a time as had befallen the Lutheran St. Charles baseball Cougars all season on Monday night after losing to eventual champion Fatima in the Class 3 semifinals.
On Tuesday morning, the Cougars got up, dusted themselves off, and made sure they left their first-ever state tournament appearance with some shiny hardware.
Bolstered by a strong pitching outing from Mathew Seacrist, a power surge from Bryce Jefferson, and a timely seventh inning explosion, Lutheran St. Charles defeated Warsaw 7-2 to claim the third place trophy at T. R. Hughes Ballpark.
“It’s definitely tough, you want to be playing for the state championship but our mindset was to finish off with a win,” Jefferson said. “We’re the first team in school history to come this far and we wanted to end it on a high-note, so that was kind of our motivation.”
Jefferson did his part for the Cougars as he scored twice, but it was his booming two-run homer that cleared the 35-foot high wall in right field that gave the Cougars and an early jolt of confidence in the top of the third as Lutheran broke a 1-1 tie and went up 3-1.
“Off the bat, I knew it had a chance, but it ended up going over so it was a good feeling,” Jefferson said.
Thanks to the early lead, Seacrist was able to shake off a first inning run by Warsaw and settle in to give the Cougars a much welcome dominant effort on the mound.
The senior right hander would not give up another run until the sixth inning. He gave up two runs, struck out four and walked three to earn the complete game win.
“The first inning, I just didn’t feel as sharp and it wasn’t really nerves,” Seacrist said. “I just kind of needed to get settled in and establish my strike zone and my teammates did a great job backing me up and making plays for me.”
The Wildcats pulled within 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth on a sac fly to right by Joey Cooner.
Lutheran (17-13) put its stamp on the game in the seventh with a dizzying four-run rally on Cooner, who relieved Warsaw starter Bailey Jelinek in the sixth.
The Cougars scored a run off a wild pitch and then with runners at second and third and no outs, Justin Hunt laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that allowed another run to score.
Warsaw (22-4) was completely caught asleep on the bunt play. “That was a call (play),” Lutheran St. Charles coach Denis Lueck said. “I just wanted to tack on one more run.”
Matthew Westphal, ripped a shot to the right field wall for a triple and then came home for a run off the error at third on the throw from right, making it 7-2.
A half an inning later, it was time for the Lutheran St. Charles faithful to revel in the program’s first state appearance and the arrival of the program as a team to look out for next season.
“It’s amazing,” Jefferson said of the third place finish. “I mean it can only help us and can only bring more kids to us and more attention and for all of us seniors, that was our big goal to kind of leave a legacy for the future of the program and I think the future of the program is really bright.”