JOLIET | Marian Catholic senior pitcher Ben Santori said that when he learned on Thursday that he would be the Spartans starting pitcher for the IHSA Class 3A state championship game, he was fine with the news.
Saturday morning on the day of the game, however, Santori's stomach told a different story.
The right-handed Crete resident was greeted upon waking Saturday morning with a queasy stomach that did not settle until he vomited. After the morning jolt, Santori was more than fine, he was exceptional.
Santori, who struck out 12 batters in Monday's quarterfinal victory over Simeon, pitched another complete game Saturday against LaSalle-Peru, as the Spartans rolled to a 10-2 victory.
That was the school's first state championship in baseball and the first team state title since the football team won in 1993.
"I'm not sure if it was nerves," Santori said with a grin when thinking of his morning. "But I think so."
In contrast to the Simeon win, Santori only struck out five batters against the Cavaliers, but received spotless play from his teammates in the field, who did not commit an error for the fourth consecutive game.
"I can't say enough about my teammates," Santori said. "They made many big plays to pick me up."
The Cavaliers (34-7) got to Santori early, manufacturing a run off a pair of hits to tie the game 1-1 in the first inning. After that, Santori and the Spartans defense kept the Cavaliers away from a much-needed big inning, thanks in part to double plays turned in the third and fifth inning.
By the time Cavalier Casey Huebbe connected for the only home run of the game in the sixth inning, the Spartans already had control of the game firmly in their grasp. Santori did not walk a batter Saturday. An unassisted groundout to teammate Brett Lilek closed out the game and sent Spartans from all directions after Santori, who became the focal point of the team's celebratory victory pile.
"My changeup was really working for me (Saturday)," Santori said. "It was keeping them off balance, and then I was hitting my spots with the fastball."
Spartans coach Phil Wail said the development of Santori throughout the season mirrored that of the Spartans, who broke away from a .500 season to win their last eight games of the year. Santori finished the year with two stellar performances as part of his 4-2 pitching record.
"It was not a tough decision to go with Ben to start the game because we knew we had (Ryan) Waaso in relief if we needed him," Wail said. "We didn't really expect him to pitch the whole game because of the heat, but Benny is a gamer."