O’Brien: Morgan Park’s state title hopes dashed

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Morgan Park arrived at the baseball state finals in Joliet with dreams of ending the Public League’s 42-year title drought. There hasn’t been a baseball state championship team from the Public League since Hubbard won in 1973. The last Public League team to even play for the title was Fenger in 1986.

Things did not go well on Friday. Highland destroyed the Mustangs 13-0 in five innings in the Class 3A state semifinals at Silver Cross Field.

Only one of the runs was earned. Morgan Park dropped fly balls, booted ground balls and made ill-advised throws. The Mustangs committed four errors and managed just four hits.

“We had a tough, tough loss today,” said Radcliffe. “All I can say is if we could play it over again the results would be different. This was a very, very big experience. We read a lot and look at Twitter and everything and nobody really expected us to be here.”

The Mustangs were not even expected to be here this weekend. They didn’t win the city title (rival Simeon did) and were beaten badly early in the year by St. Rita and Mount Carmel. But Morgan Park easily handled the first three teams it played in the state playoffs and then squeaked out a win over Harlan in the sectional final and beat Illiana Christian 5-3 in the super sectional.

All of a sudden the Mustangs were on the map and heading to the state finals. Morgan Park coach Ernest Radcliffe was a believer from the beginning.

“I knew what kind of team we had,” said Radcliffe. “I told the guys early in the school year that our goal was to defend our city championship and be state champions. And we are here, playing the last weekend of high school baseball. There are hundreds and hundreds of kids and teams that wish they were at this particular place.”

Morgan Park (25-13) made it through the playoffs with raw speed. When they get on base, the Mustangs are always running, always putting severe pressure on their opponent. But that isn’t possible if you don’t get on base.

“Our approach is to take a pitch, hit the ball to the right side, lay the bunt down and use our speed,” said Radcliffe. “We are one of the fastest teams in the state and we like to utilize our speed. When you get that far behind you have to change it up a little bit.”

Highland starting pitcher Grant Geppert pounded the ball inside on the Morgan Park hitters.

“They did what they had to do to execute their plan and it worked obviously,” said Christian Bullock, the Mustangs’ starting pitcher. “It’s an honor being here. Everybody doesn’t get this chance. We enjoyed every part of it.”

Saturday is a big moment for Morgan Park baseball. A victory in the third place game against St. Francis would be a major accomplishment. St. Francis lost to Nazareth 2-1 in the other Class 3A semifinal.

“We have to go out there and shake this off and represent the CPS in the best way we can and win the third place trophy tomorrow,” said Radcliffe. “It is our responsibility to go out there and play 175 percent and nothing short of that.”

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