HENNEPIN | Illinois Lutheran seniors Dylan Kish and Zach Kotecki stood along the left-field line in front of their teammates, coaches and parents and threw their graduation caps in the air.
The Chargers may have just lost 13-10 to Ottawa Marquette in the Class 1A Putnam County Sectional championship, but there was still a reason to celebrate.
Because of the game, both Kish and Kotecki missed their graduation ceremony so the team held an impromptu ceremony following the game to honor them.
"Our fans stuck around and made them feel good, and I think it was a wonderful way to send them off into the real world," Illinois Lutheran coach Mark Kjenstad said. "They got to celebrate their graduation ceremony in a very unique way. That’s something they’ll never forget."
The ceremony was a bittersweet ending to the season for the Chargers (21-8), who gave Marquette all it could handle before falling to the Crusaders (30-7).
Illinois Lutheran trailed by as many as seven runs in the top of the sixth inning, but fought back with four runs in the bottom of the sixth and had the tying run at the plate.
However, Marquette was able to get out the jam and hold on for the victory, which propelled the Crusaders into Monday’s Class 1A Benedictine University supersectional.
"We came back in the semifinals, down 6-1, and we came back to win," Kjenstad said. "We had confidence that if we got down, we could come back… But their offensive attack was just relentless. They just kept coming at us."
Marquette pounded out 19 hits in the game against Charger pitching, led by J.T. Yocum, who went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs. Trystin Raikes also was 3-for-5 with two doubles, an RBI and three runs scored. Five Marquette players had three hits apiece.
Starting pitcher Jake Kendrick took the loss for Illinois Lutheran as he allowed four earned runs on eight hits in three innings of work. He walked two and struck out two.
Illinois Lutheran had 12 hits in the loss, but what will haunt the Chargers were the missed opportunities. Illinois Lutheran left 12 men on base in the game, including leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning.
"We’re not going to regret anything about this season, but we’re going to look back and say we missed some opportunities early in this game," Kjenstad said.
Jayson Williams had two hits and three RBI, while Grant Farmer was 3-for-3 with two RBI to lead the Chargers. Mack Newson also went 3-for-4 for Illinois Lutheran.
Tony Gondolfi earned the win for Marquette.