NEW LENOX – The Providence baseball team has a bit of a history of rallying its way to more than its fair share of postseason victories.
And they keep adding new chapters to that book.
The Celtics jumped out to an early lead, promptly gave it back and were forced into the all-too-familar position of having to come from behind. They did, posting a three-run fifth inning, then added four more in the sixth, that it turned out they needed, and fended off a late charge from postseason upstart Romeoville, 10-7.
The win lifts Providence into the Lockport Sectional, where they will lock horns with Stagg at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Stagg defeated Lincoln-Way Central, 1-0, in the Marian Catholic Regional title game. Only one of the four top seeds (Marist) advanced to the sectional round.
Providence also rallied in Wednesday’s semifinal round as it dug a 6-0 hole before climbing out to win, 8-7, over Homewood-Flossmoor. It’s becoming a bit of a thing.
“Trust me, I wish we didn’t do that all the time,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “But there’s just something in these kids, and in the program, that they believe that they can come back from anything, and they just don’t quit.”
Providence looked like they were primed to squash the hopes of the surprising Spartans, who stunned top-seeded Lincoln-Way East on Tuesday, as they posted a solitary run in the first and tacked on two more in the second to take a 3-0 lead.
But in the fourth Romeoville conjured a bit more of their postseason magic. Stringing together four hits, a walk and hit batsmen, Romeoville surged ahead with a five-run inning to take a surprising 5-3 lead.
It was a uncharacteristically shaky inning from Providence starter Ben Vitas, who had pretty much breezed through the first three innings. Vitas left the game from a pitching perspective, but stayed in the Providence lineup, which proved to be key.
Providence went quietly in the fourth, but in the fifth the rally monsters resurfaced. Jake Mucha reached on a fielder’s choice that retired the lead runner for the second out. But just as he had against Homewood-Flossmoor in the previous game, Brendan Geers delivered a mighty blow, smashing a home run to tie the score at 5.
Then Vitas stepped in, looking for atonement.
He didn’t wait long to get it, lofting a home run of his own to give Providence the lead back at 6-5, and the Celtics wouldn’t relinquish it.
“The whole game your mind is going,” Vitas said of his dual responsibilities. “Sometimes it is hard to focus on two things at once. But it came to one point where it worked and I was locked in for my team.”
Alex Helmin kept Providence moving in the sixth by blasting a mammoth two-run homer in the sixth, and back-to-back doubles by Mucha and Geers pushed the Providence lead to 10-5.
All that remained was to see if Romeoville had one more push left in them, and they certainly threw everything they had into making one last push.
The first four Spartans reached base in the inning, with Romeoville getting one run home on a single by Luis Delgado and another on a wild pitch. Reliever Dan Dombrowski, after issuing a walk that allowed the potential tying run to come to the plate, settled in and got the final three batters in order.
Dombrowski was the fourth pitcher of the game for the Celtics (22-15), who had to grind out a contest against a team that looked absolutely nothing like a No. 17 seed.
“I tip my cap to that team. They played their hearts out and they swung the bats. The inning that they had five runs, it’s not like we gave them any,” Smith said.
It was a disappointing end for the Spartans, but the future looks extremely bright for the program. Romeoville started only one senior Saturday, and had only two that saw heavy playing time all year.
“We never gave up,” Romeoville coach Mike Skroch said. “We started today with the 10 guys in the lineup with two sophomores, six juniors and a senior. We’ll be returning almost everybody.”