BURBANK | St. Rita starting pitcher Mike Costanzo was up at 6 on Saturday morning.
Visions of Mount Carmel batters smacking his offerings around Ron Czarnecki Field were cluttering his mind.
“I’ve been lit up all three times I faced them,” Costanzo said. “Two or three weeks ago, they murdered me. I couldn’t eat. And there was no falling back asleep.”
The fourth time was the charm for the senior as he scattered four hits across six innings, then saw Jake Shepski come in from left field after the first batter in the seventh and hang on for St. Rita’s 4-3 victory over Mount Carmel in the Class 4A sectional final at Reavis.
St. Rita (35-4) advances to Monday night’s super-sectional in Crestwood against Downers Grove South (28-8), a 10-1 winner over Plainfield North at Oswego.
Mount Carmel, 31-8 in defense of its 4A championship, went down scrapping. It was down a run and one strike from elimination when Malik Carpenter’s single to center kept things alive in the top of the seventh.
Then Josh Stowers walked to load the bases, but Scott Kapers popped up on a 2-2 pitch to end the attempt at back-to-back titles.
“I knew I had to settle in and get that last out,” Shepski said.
Mount Carmel head coach Brian Hurry was beside himself regarding the home plate umpiring at one stage in the late going, moving halfway to the plate from his station in the third base coach’s box while appearing to give a sign to his batter.
But, as Shepski noted, “It goes both ways -- and that’s what makes the game fun. The one they really got mad about, I thought was a strike. They called the same strike on me.”
Caravan pitcher Marko Boricich was uncommonly wild early, walking the first two St. Rita batters and not throwing a strike until his 10th pitch. He also hit three batters. But what nobody knew was Boricich’s battle with lower back pain for the last three weeks. That he threw at all and managed to get into the seventh inning was remarkable.
“He just gutted it out there, trying to go out there do it,” Hurry said. “He really battled and gave us a chance to win.”
Boricich was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to Costanzo’s bobble and bad throw on Carpenter’s chopper to the mound. While three Mustangs chased the ball, A.J. Lewis scored from second.
But from that point, Costanzo settled down en route to his 10th victory. Nobody got past first base until the fifth inning.
The final reversed the outcome of last year’s sectional final, when Mount Carmel knocked off St. Rita 5-4.
“They fought from the first pitch to the last,” Hurry said of his players. “That speaks to the heart and character of the guys I coach.”