The biggest hit of Jake Urdangen’s life had a downside to it Thursday at the Class 4A Maine South Regional baseball tournament.
Urdangen’s walk-off hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning produced an unexpected result for the Evanston senior — the ice water bath that comes along with those post-game celebrations.
Urdangen’s one-out single capped a wild win for the Wildkits — perhaps the wildest of the season — as they opened postseason play with a thrilling 12-11 triumph over a gallant Maine South squad.
One strike away from losing, the host Hawks rapped three straight hits following an Evanston error and grabbed an 11-10 lead in the top half of the frame.
But Evanston, the No. 4 seed in the Lane Tech Sectional field, snatched the momentum back with Urdangen in the hero’s role. Evanston, now 23-11, will face either Maine East or Leyden for the regional championship on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Urdangen’s ground single past third base decided a game that featured a combined 23 runs, 25 hits, 13 walks, 3 hit batters and 7 errors. It came against a familiar foe, because Urdangen and South relief pitcher Danny Cerniglia are teammates on the Homestead Ranchers summer squad.
“Once I got up 2-1 (in the count) on him, I knew he’d throw me a fastball,” said a shivering Urdangen after his post-game drenching. “I didn’t know where he’d throw it. I’m a pull hitter, and I’m just glad he threw it inside instead of outside.
“That’s the biggest hit of my life, by far. When Jesse (teammate Jesse Heuer) got on base I knew I’d have a chance to get a hit, and I just stayed focused and tried to make the best of my opportunity. I’ve always dreamed of a moment like this, and today is a dream come true for me.”
Urdangen has done most of his damage this spring as a designated hitter, stuck in a numbers game behind two other first basemen, junior Joe Epler and senior Chris Brown.
ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio did his best to prepare Urdangen for his biggest moment, and said he wasn’t surprised to see the junior come through Thursday in the clutch.
“I told him right from Day 1 that he was one of our top five hitters,” Consiglio said. “One of my goals was to find at-bats for him, but in RBI situations, not leading off innings. All season I tried to put him in there in RBI spots and he’s come through with a lot of good at-bats (with 10 hits for 10 RBI). He was the right man in the right spot for us today.”
Shaky defense by the winners helped No. 15 seed Maine South climb all the way back from what was a 10-3 deficit after five innings. The Hawks chased ETHS starting pitcher Brown in the sixth, then pushed across five runs in that frame and added three more in the seventh against relievers Matt Anderson and Henry Haack.
Haack, who is expected to start Saturday’s title game, was victimized by two infield errors that gave the Hawks hope with two outs in the seventh. Consecutive singles by Declan Griffin, Salvatore Cecala and Spyros Vaselopulos pulled the Hawks into the lead before Haack whiffed Danny Touhy on three pitches for the final out.
In the ETHS seventh, B.J. Johnson (2-for-3, 3 runs scored) beat out an infield squib, Adam Geibel singled to right and Heuer was hit by a pitch by South reliever Justin Grigus to load the bases with no outs. Cerniglia struck out Brown for the first out, but the second out never came as Epler drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the tying run and Urdangen lashed his second hit of the game past third.
Heuer and Brown both drove in three runs for the winners and Geibel plated a pair with two singles and a double.
“You have to have at least one game like this in the playoffs, so I’m not surprised,” said Consiglio. “Teams that make runs in the state playoffs have to fight through adversity like this. We were up 7 and then we were down 1, and now every single player will leave here realizing that you have to come to play for 7 innings, for 21 outs. All of the momentum was on Maine South’s side in the last two innings, but I thought we showed a lot of fight.
“We did a lot of things well today. One thing we didn’t do well was to play with the lead, and we also took some risks on defense that we didn’t need to take. One run really matters in the playoffs and you can’t give a team life like that (with defensive miscues). That’s one thing that we needed to learn.”