It’s been a season of highs and lows for Tom Hayes.
On Saturday, it couldn’t get any higher for the Mount Carmel senior.
Hayes’ two-run double in the sixth inning broke a 3-3 tie and helped Mount Carmel deliver a 5-4 win over St. Rita in the Class 4A Reavis Sectional championship game in Burbank.
The Caravan advance to Monday’s 4A Crestwood Supersectional against Lockport at 7:30 p.m.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Hayes said. “I started out slow, but I started believing in coach (Brian) Hurry’s philosophy. At the end of the day, you have to put the team first.”
After St. Rita (31-8) grabbed a 3-1 lead in the top of sixth, the Caravan (31-8) responded with four runs off starter Dominic Fosco.
Beau Filkins ignited the rally with an infield single to start the inning and Ako Thomas followed with a double. A ground out by Josh Stowers scored Filkins and cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Caravan then tied the game when Jerry Houston hit a grounder to third base and Thomas beat the throw home.
Two batters later, after a walk to Jason Gasser and a pop out, Hayes strolled to the plate. Hayes, a left-handed hitter, hit a pop-up in foul territory that looked to be the third out of the inning. However, catcher Nate Soria, who was fighting a stiff breeze, couldn’t corral the ball. Hayes made certain to take advantage of the second chance, drilling a 2-and-2 change-up into the right-field corner scoring two runs.
“Hayes has been a three-year varsity starter,” Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry said. “You like to have those guys up with the game on the line.”
The Caravan scored the game’s first run in the third inning when Thomas reached on a two-out error and scored on Stowers double to center field for a 1-0 lead.
That was Mount Carmel’s only hit until the decisive sixth.
St. Rita tied the game in the fifth on a two-out RBI single by Jake Shepski (2-for-4) off Caravan starter Marko Boricich.
The Mustangs took a 3-1 lead in the sixth. Marty Napleton doubled and Halas singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Soria’s fielder’s choice scored one run and Andrew Massey’s single plated another for a short-lived two-run cushion.
“It’s a crazy game,” St. Rita coach Mike Zunica said. “That’s single elimination baseball. It will rip your heart out.”
Mount Carmel won two of three games against arch-rival St. Rita this season, winning 10-2 and losing 7-6 during the regular season.
“The biggest bonus of winning today is beating St. Rita in the sectional championship,” said Hurry, reprising a similar quote made by Zunica about playing Mount Carmel after the Mustangs beat St. Laurence Thursday. “My team has heart and grit. I’m proud of all of them.”
Mount Carmel ace Jeremy Kravetz was summoned from the bullpen to start the seventh. He allowed a lead-off double to Anthony Ray (3-for-4) and a sacrifice fly to Connor McLain that made it 5-4 before recording the game’s final out.
“It feels awesome,” said Filkins of beating St. Rita. “We just never stop competing.”