St. Ignatius junior Dominic Fischer had assistant coach Sean O’Connor’s words running through his mind as he stood on third base in the eighth inning Friday at Route 66 Stadium in Joliet: ‘‘Anything in the dirt, just read the knees. If the knees go down, you have a chance to score.’’
That’s exactly what happened. Triad pitcher Zach Kraabel’s pitch was wild, and Fischer scampered home to give the Wolfpack a 3-2 victory in the Class 3A semifinals.
St. Ignatius will face downstate Morton in the championship game Saturday. It has been an unexpected run for the Wolfpack.
‘‘We were fourth in the second division of the Catholic League,’’ St. Ignatius coach Sean Mason said. ‘‘Our league prepares us for this. There is nothing we haven’t seen during the conference season that we see in the playoffs.’’
Mason wrote down the names of all the other Catholic League teams on a board Thursday before the team left for Joliet. Then he had the players cross them off one by one until only St. Ignatius remained. The Wolfpack are the only Catholic League team at the state finals.
‘‘If you had told me that at the beginning of the year, I would have thought you were crazy,’’ Mason said. ‘‘All the coaches in the league reached out to me. They are happy for us. Hopefully we can bring the league another state championship.’’
This is the first trip to the title game for St. Ignatius (20-11). The Wolfpack lost their last four games of the regular season before getting hot in the playoffs.
‘‘This is the highest-character group I’ve ever coached,’’ Mason said. ‘‘We aren’t a perfect team, but we compete our butts off.’’
Starting pitcher Will McManaman and St. Ignatius’ defense were the two principal forces in the game. McManaman allowed two runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked two in 7 2/3 innings.
‘‘[McManaman] is the most underrated pitcher in the state,’’ Mason said. ‘‘I don’t care where he is ranked, there is no one in the state I would have wanted on the hill today more than him. Just unbelievable baseball, gutty. I can’t say enough of the career he’s had.’’
McManaman also was 2-for-4 at the plate. Third baseman Thomas Stoodt was 3-for-3 with a run scored, and shortstop Bill Brady — who made two impressive plays in the field early — was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
‘‘My team really picked me up,’’ said McManaman, St. Ignatius’ all-time leader with 24 victories. ‘‘They played awesome defense behind me. Nick [Rosa-Palermo] made some awesome plays in left.
‘‘I hurt my finger in the fifth inning, but Coach let me keep going, even though I could only really throw my fastball. I just kept battling.’’
Triad (29-12) is located in Troy, just outside St. Louis. This was the second appearance at the state finals for the Knights, who finished fourth in Class 3A in 2012.
‘‘We had several opportunities, but they were outstanding on defense,’’ Triad coach Jesse Bugger said. ‘‘When we did hit it, they caught it.’’
Morton beat Nazareth 8-1 in the first Class 3A semifinal. The games were delayed because of heavy rains in the morning.