If there was any doubt about Riverside-Brookfield junior Sam Habayeb being completely back, he proved it during Friday’s 11-7 win over regional host Morton in the Class 4A state playoffs.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior, who missed about six weeks this season with a knee injury, hit a grand slam to trigger a comeback victory for the Bulldogs. For good measure, he earned the win in relief of starter Enrique Trujillo by allowing only one run (unearned), two hits and striking out four in 3 1/3 innings.
“Sam has bounced back from his injury that really hindered him for a while,” RBHS coach Dallas Till said. “He’s finally starting to get back in the flow of things which is great to see.”
Although Morton hosted Friday’s matchup, the Bulldogs were the home team as the higher seed in the St. Rita Sectional.
The Mustangs jumped out to a 4-0 early lead in the top of the first inning as Trujillo struggled on the mound for RBHS.
In the second, however, the Bulldogs took the lead for good with seven runs. Trujillo hit a two-run triple and scored on the play as well when Morton made an errant throw to third base. A hit and two walks later, Habayeb belted a grand slam to put RBHS ahead 7-3.
With the Bulldogs clinging to an 8-7 lead in the fifth, center fielder Matt Armenta provided a clutch two-RBI single to extend their advantage to 10-7. RBHS tacked on a run in the sixth en route to victory.
“Everything kind of went as we hoped today,” Till said. “I didn’t want Sammy throwing 3 1/3 (innings) but Enrique’s pitch count got kind of high. Ideally, Sam would have thrown about two innings but he did a nice job. It was a close game throughout.”
Although he gave up nine hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings, Trujillo pitched fairly well after a shaky opening frame. Offensively, he was terrific with a 4-for-4 performance at the plate. Sophomores Howie Hatton (1-for-2, 2 runs scored), Jarod Turina (2 runs scored, 2 stolen bases) and John Kosner (1-for-3, walk) also contributed.
“We have gotten a nice spark from our three sophomores, Turina, Kosner and Hatton,” Till said. “Asher (Runyan-Randruut) has just been phenomenal. Kyle (Fitzgerald) is a stalwart at shortstop and Matt Armenta is playing a great center field for us.
“We’re bonding and jelling at the right time. We only have 15 kids but we really like the kids we have.”
RBHS recorded another successful regular season under Till by finishing 22-13. The Bulldogs also earned a four-way share of the Metro Suburban Conference West Division title with Wheaton Academy, Glenbard South and Aurora Central Catholic. Each team finished 12-7 but there is no tiebreaker if more than two teams share the championship.
Considering the remarkable depth of the sectional, Till wasn’t surprised at all the Bulldogs were tested right off the bat.
“Playing Morton in our first just goes to show the depth and strength of the sectional,” Till said. “Morton is a 12 seed but definitely deserving of a higher seed if they were in any other sectional.
“If the draw holds true, you could have St. Rita vs. Brother Rice and St. Laurence vs. Mount Carmel in the sectional semifinals. Those are four potential state champs, plus LT and Nazareth are no pushovers. That’s six storied baseball programs, plus (the sectional) 7 through 12 teams are good.”
In the championship game of the Morton Regional, St. Laurence blanked the Bulldogs 6-0 on Saturday, May 28.
RBHS, which finished 23-14 for the year, should field a highly competitive team again next year. The continued maturation of top players like Fitzgerald, Habayeb, Runyan-Randruut, Kosner, Turina and Hatton will be critical if the Bulldogs hope to contend for conference and regional titles in 2017.