By Darren Cooper / Record Sports Columnist
PARK RIDGE – The opponent was Butler. The nightmares were still from Emerson. The championship went to Park Ridge.
A year after a mind-numbing loss to Emerson in the sectional final, Park Ridge got redemption by fighting off a game Butler squad 4-1 on a humid Friday at Sulak Field to earn the North 1, Group 1 baseball title.
The Owls will face New Providence in the Group 1 semifinals at Rutgers on Tuesday.
The first words out of Owl coach Pete Crandall’s mouth to reporters was, “it took two years.” The spectre of the sectional final loss in 2017 hung like a banner over the entire Owls season. In that game, Park Ridge led 11-2 in seventh and 13-11 in the ninth only to lose, 14-13.
“I tried not to let the kids get too far down, but it had to be the most frustrating loss ever,” said Crandall. “But being around long enough, stuff like that happens. I told the kids it’s not going to be an easy ride this year, but we can do it.”
Thanks to a solo home run from Cole Triano in the first, and helped by a curious balk (one of four called Friday) the Owls owned a 4-1 lead heading into the top of the seventh.
Triano went back to the mound for the Owls and readily admitted he was thinking about 2017.
“Honestly, it got me a little nervous,” Triano said. “I had visions of that game. I just didn’t want that to happen again. It did get mental for me.”
Soon, the entire Park Ridge crowd was on edge. Triano hit Butler DH James DeRosa with the first pitch of the inning. After a strikeout he walked Damien Gnecco, then Butler lead-off man Derek Timpanaro singled to load the bases.
Triano said his focus shifted to just throwing strikes at that point. He got a strikeout looking for out number two, and after Butler standout Josh Loeschorn just missed what would have been an extra base hit down the right field line, Triano fanned Loeschorn setting off a dogpile of Owls.
“Last year was probably the worst feeling I have ever had,” said Triano. “Just to have another opportunity, another shot at this was awesome and I didn’t want a repeat of that. We left everything on the field. I certainly can’t complain about the result.”
Triano threw 104 pitches, allowed seven hits, all singles, and struck out nine.
“He was good enough,” smiled Crandall. “He has found bats all year. He reminds me of me in batting practice. I told him to stop finding bats, but he did a great job of getting out of it. He got the strikeouts when we needed them and we played clean behind him.”
Triano’s first inning home run put Park Ridge up 1-0. Butler would tie the score thanks to two balks called on Triano and an RBI groundout by Loeschorn.
In the Park Ridge third, Vincent Pinto walked and Tyler Marsh singled. They would both move up on a wild pitch. Brenden Hughes would hit a ground ball, but Butler couldn’t convert the double play and Pinto scored. Marsh would score on a balk to make it 3-1. Hughes would add an RBI single in the fifth.
Crandall was the picture of happiness after getting the customary water shower from his team. He was looking forward to moving on.
“New Providence is good, but everyone is now,” said Crandall. “At least we have something. And we will have Dylan [Triano] throwing and we will see what happens.”