NEW LENOX | A fastball in the low 90 mph range can intimidate but also inspire.
Marian Catholic junior Erik Callaghan reacted to adversity just like his team has been doing throughout this season. He had no fear and no hesitation and met the challenge with the barrel of the bat.
Callaghan’s first-pitch, game-tying RBI double off of hard-throwing Oak Forest right-hander Kyle Funkhouser saved Marian’s season. It also rattled Funkhouser and led the Spartans to a seventh-inning comeback and 7-5 win over Oak Forest in one semifinal of the Class 3A Lincoln-Way West Sectional.
“We do not want to lose, we want to keep going,” Callaghan said. “We want to do whatever we can to play in that last game and win our last game. Big hits like that one get everyone pumped.”
Marian Catholic, which just won its first regional since 1987, plays either Joliet Catholic or Lincoln-Way West at 11 a.m. Saturday for the championship.
Callaghan had flown out twice and grounded out in his three plate appearances before the seventh inning. However, with two out and Brett Lilek (walk) and Devin Pickett (single) on base and the Spartans down 5-4, Callaghan preyed on a tendency he noticed.
“Funkhouser was throwing that hard first pitch, so I went up there sitting dead red on a fastball,” Callaghan said. “We don’t normally see speed like that. You can’t blame things on speed. You just have to adjust.”
After Callaghan’s double inside the third base line scored Lilek, Funkhouser tried to see if Marian would be susceptible to a pickoff throw for a fourth time in the game. Instead, he touched the pitching rubber on his double move, and Pickett scored on a balk to put Marian up 6-5. Callaghan, an Oak Forest native who also played flawlessly at shortstop, scored later on a wild pitch for an insurance run against his hometown team.
“They had momentum, but once we got a couple guys on, he got flustered,” Callaghan said. “We didn’t get down. We put the ball in play.”
Marian led 2-0 in the first inning on back-to-back run-scoring hits by Lilek and Brett Bohlen, but the Bengals went up 3-2 in the third and 5-2 in the fourth.
Funkhouser had come on in relief after Pickett’s two-run double cut the lead to 5-4 in the fifth.
“Let’s go, baby! We’re not done! We’re not done!” an enthused Pickett shouted to teammates after the game.
Marian relief pitcher Ben Santori allowed no runs, no walks and just one hit in the final 3 1/3 innings for the win.
After a 10-2 start the Spartans lost seven one-run games during a grating East Suburban Catholic Conference schedule. Now coach Phil Wail knows his team is all the better for having endured so many close losses.
“This is huge because we’ve been looking forward to this all year,” Wail said. “I give so much credit to them. With 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, it’s hit or miss. They’ve really bought in to what all coaches say: Don’t give up and always play the full seven innings. That’s what separates the good teams.”