Brother Rice arrived at the Illinois High School Association’s Class 4A state baseball finals in Joliet as a heavy favorite. The Crusaders impressed early in the season at national events, beating two highly-touted teams from Florida, IMG and Montverde.
The win against IMG ended with Jack Lausch’s walk-off home run in the ninth inning. Lausch, the Sun-Times Football Player of the Year, has signed with Northwestern as a quarterback but is also one of the state’s top prospects in the MLB Draft.
Friday’s state semifinal game against Edwardsville at Duly Health and Care Field opened with another Lausch highlight. Tigers leadoff hitter Grant Huebner ripped a ball deep to center field that would have cleared the fence at any high school park.
Lausch says he knew he had it all along. He was likely alone in that opinion. But he pulled it off, catching the ball in a full-on sprint with his back to the plate, Willie Mays-style.
“[Left fielder Nick Daugherty] did a great job of talking to me,” Lausch said. “He helped me out a lot. We actually have kind of been practicing that a bit.”
That first moment wound up being the highlight of the game for the Crusaders. Edwardsville’s big bats came through in the middle innings and the Tigers knocked off Brother Rice 7-4.
Edwardsville will face the winner of the McHenry-Mundelein semifinal in the championship game on Saturday.
“We’ve faced really good teams,” Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said. “We’ve beaten the state champion in Missouri. Our guys have been in that setting and they expect themselves to do well. That’s why they were able to calm their nerves.
Edwardsville has been a regular at the baseball state finals over the years. The Tigers won titles in 2019, 1998, and 1990 and have made 16 overall appearances. But Brother Rice entered the game ranked 14th in the country by MaxPreps, one of just three teams in the midwest ranked in the top 25.
“There’s no doubt about Brother Rice,” Funkhouser said. “They are a phenomenal team and their coaches do a great job. We’re happy to come out on top today.”
Indiana recruit Dylan Warda started for the Crusaders (35-6). He pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven runs (four earned), five hits, struck out six, and walked four.
The walks and some defensive miscues were the difference in the game. The Tigers pride themselves on their discipline at the plate.
“If you don’t throw strikes as much as you would like we can expose that,” Funkhouser said. “Our guys are really patient. It’s hard to do it in this setting but our guys did a great job.”
Lausch came into pitch in the fifth and shut Edwardsville (33-4) down for the final two innings.
The Crusaders had runners on base in the fourth and fifth inning but were shut down by a pair of impressive Edwardsville double plays.
“Those are huge,” Lausch said. “Throughout the playoffs we had a few of those ourselves. They are inning killers.”
The Tigers took the lead on a trick play steal of home in the third inning. They had runners on first and third. The runner leading off at first was the decoy. He pretended to fall down while the runner at third, Caeleb Copeland, raced for home.
“That play is good for that situation,” McBride said. “We had a lefty on the mound and we were ready for it. [Warda] had a curveball grip. The guy took off and he didn’t change his grip in time and we didn’t make the play. We knew it was coming but they out-executed us.”
Lausch ended up falling short in the state semifinals in football and baseball. But along the way, he provided more highlight moments in two major sports than any player in recent memory. After the loss one of his teammates pointed out that you remember the special moments your entire life while trophies just collect dust.
Maybe that’s why Lausch wasn’t in tears after the game. He held his head high and looked at the positive.
“This was a really cool experience,” Lausch said. “I’m excited for the younger guys to see this as something to work towards and something to build towards. Hopefully, they get back here consistently.”