Brother Rice is presented with the IHSA Class 4A second-place trophy on June 10 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet. The Crusaders concluded their season with the program's best finish since 1981. Photo by Jeff Vorva
Baseball Class 4A State Championship | Brother Rice falls to Edwardsville, takes 2nd for best finish since 1981
By Jeff Vorva
Cole Van Assen helped take Brother Rice to a place it hasn’t been to since 1981.
A state championship game.
The Crusaders lost, 6-4, to Edwardsville in the IHSA Class 4A state final on June 10 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet, but it was Van Assen’s masterpiece in a 4-0 semifinal win over New Trier that had people buzzing.
Included on the list of those who lauded Van Assen was New Trier assistant coach Kerry Wood, the Cubs legend who once struck out 20 Houston Astros in a game during his rookie season in 1998.
“We’ve seen pitchers with stuff — you don’t get to this weekend without seeing stuff,” Wood said. “I don’t think he was completely overpowering. I think what he did really well was that he had four different pitches he was commanding in the strike zone.
“His changeup was outstanding, he’s got a little cutter, a slider and his fastball has some life on it. His fastball was tough to pick up the first couple of innings. He definitely had good stuff and had good composure on the mound. It was a difference-maker.”
The Purdue-bound Van Assen gave up two hits and struck out nine batters over seven innings. It was just the second time New Trier (29-9) was shut out this season.
The senior was emotional after the win as he had a hard time composing himself during a postgame press conference.
“If I could, I would want to pitch every game,” Van Assen said. “I would love to go out and pitch another game like this and send my team out with a state championship.”
Brother Rice coach Sean McBride said Van Assen, who finished with 26 career wins at the Chicago school is “the best to ever do it in a Brother Rice uniform.”
Pitch count rules relegated him to being a spectator for the championship game, in which the Crusaders fought back from an early 3-0 deficit to tie the game at four heading into the sixth. Edwardsville scored once in the sixth to take the lead and added an insurance run in the seventh to account for the final score.
The Crusaders (26-16) enjoyed their best postseason run since 1981, when they took second in Class AA.
While last year’s 36-6 Brother Rice squad was powerful and there was little surprise it finished third in the state, this year’s team featured a lot of newcomers and there were times during the season when finishing above .500 wasn’t a guarantee.
After opening the season with two wins, the Crusaders dropped six of their next seven games, including a rare loss to Leo.
It was still tough to get a handle on this team when it opened the postseason with a 20-15 mark. They lost 10-0 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor on May 19 in the Do It Stevie’s Way Tournament.
The Crusaders went on one of their best rolls of the season once the bright lights of the postseason turned on.
They beat Argo and Mount Carmel to win the Young Regional, then knocked of top-seeded Lyons and St. Rita to win the Mount Carmel Sectional.
They had a wild, come-from-behind 5-4 win over Lincoln-Way East to claim the Crestwood Supersectional on June 5.
In the semifinal win over New Trier, Amir Gray, Gavin Triezenberg, Ryan Hartz and Sean Sullivan drove in runs for the Crusaders. Chris Daugherty scored twice.
In the loss to Edwardsville, Jackson Natanek, Gray and Aidan Nohava drove in runs, and Sullivan scored twice.
Despite the young makeup of the roster and some of the rough patches during the season, McBride was not surprised his team made it to the championship.
“These guys took this program to a new level,” he said. “The standard is set where we are chasing a trophy and the talent is there and the coaching is there at all levels.
“We’re set up to win. This is where we’re at. We plan on being here and giving ourselves a chance every year, so, yes, I thought we would be here. That’s the goal and that’s the expectation and that won’t change.”
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