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Updated: August 11, 2011 12:15AM
Providence players listened intently in front of their dugout, not a single smile among them, as the public address announcer rattled off the names of the Lyons team.
Moments later, the Celtics posed for a picture with the Class 4A second-place trophy in tow, looking like they would rather take a day’s worth of pop final exams than be relegated to the title of second-best.
On this day in front of 4,100 fans at Silver Cross Field in Joliet, Providence was just that. Lyons played better in every facet and deserved the 4A state championship with an 8-3 win.
It wasn’t a good day on the diamond for the Southland.
Instead of winning two state championships for the first time since 1978, the region had to settle for a pair of seconds.
Oak Forest didn’t fare any better in Class 3A, dropping an 11-3 decision to Kaneland.
That makes four runner-up finishes in three years for area teams at the state finals. St. Rita finished second in 4A in 2009 and 2010.
“As a coach, you know how hard it is to win in this sport,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “Especially in a single-elimination format.”
Someone should have informed the local radio broadcasters who had practically hand-delivered the state championship to Providence after Friday’s 9-1 win over Prospect. What Homer and Bart Simpson failed to realize was the ability of Lyons, which is a perennial powerhouse, not some fly-by-night Cinderella who arrived on the strength of a fluke class. The Celtics and Lions finished with identical 37-4 marks against stellar competition.
Lyons pitcher Connor Cuff baffled the Celtics like no other pitcher had all season.
Cuff (11-0) hasn’t lost in two seasons.
He mixed a mid-to-upper 80s fastball, dazzling breaking pitch and sick changeup to frustrate Providence’s explosive offense.
The exception, of course, was Sam Travis. The Indiana recruit blasted a tape-measure homer in the first to stake the Celtics to a 1-0 lead and later added an RBI double.
Travis had a season that will rank among the greatest of all time, hitting above .500, with 17 homers and nearly 80 RBI.
The young man accepted the loss with class and gave Cuff props.
“He mixed his pitches well and pitched a great game,” said Travis, who hammered a first-pitch curveball on his home run ball. “It’s going to take a while to get over this. But we had a great season.”
Yes they did.
And so did Oak Forest (28-8).
The Bengals couldn’t have asked for a better start to their 3A final against Kaneland. John Zubek and Brian Richard, the first two batters of the game, reached base, giving Tim Barry and red-hot Bobby Sheppard a chance to provide the Bengals with an early lead.
A couple of hits by the Bengals big boppers would have had Kaneland in catch-up mode before the Knights even had a chance to bat.
Instead, Barry flied out and Sheppard struck out. Cody Murray also flied out, ending the threat.
A missed opportunity, for sure.
Trailing 1-0 in the third, Oak Forest had runners on first and second with one out and Barry again at the plate.
Once again, the state’s all-time home run king failed to come through, this time hitting into a 1-4-3 inning-ending double play.
Instead of tipping his cap to the opposing pitcher, Barry showed some frustration after the game.
“It’s very frustrating because every high school pitcher has to pitch around me because they’re a bunch of babies,” Barry said. “They can’t test their abilities against a really good hitter like myself.”
With a fastball in the low 80s, Kaneland pitcher Crew Peters did exactly what he should against a fastball devouring hitter like Barry: feed him a steady diet of offspeed stuff.
Unfortunately, Barry couldn’t resist swinging.
“We couldn’t get the big hit,” Oak Forest coach Thad Gatton said.
Oak Forest would eventually take a 2-1 lead on a two-run single by Jason Hine in the fourth inning. But the Bengals’ inability to take advantage of those early scoring opportunities would come back to haunt them.
Kaneland used a six-run fifth inning to put the game out of reach.
It’s a tough pill for the Celtics and Bengals to swallow now, but the sun will come up tomorrow.
It always does.