Editor’s note: The River Forest boys 10/11-year-olds baseball team defeated Streator 10-5 in Burbank Wednesday night to claim the Illinois State Little League State Tournament championship.Timmy Ward paced the offense with four hits and five RBIs, After giving up three runs in the first, pitcher Eric Carlson settled down to allow only two runs over the remaining five innings.

“Everyone played great,” River Forest coach Lou Leonardi said. “These kids played together and worked hard all summer so it’s a truly well deserved state title.”

The River Forest players are Conor Paris, Thomas Wangelin, Mike Gladden, Lou Leonardi, Evan Eberle, Martin Paris, Jack Flagg, Jack Willsey, Eric Henkes, Timmy Ward and Eric Carlson. Dave Willsey, Tom Wangelin and Lou Leonardi are the coaches.

*Read the pre-title game story below

The River Forest boys 10/11-year-olds baseball team is one win away from claiming an Illinois State Little League State Tournament championship.

While it’s a common belief in sports that the last victory is the toughest to earn en route to a title, the team like its odds with a 2-for-1 scenario. Courtesy of the tournament’s double elimination format, undefeated River Forest enters Wednesday’s 7 p.m. championship game at the Burbank Little League field (7600 S. Central in Burbank) against the winner of LaGrange vs. Streator with some margin for error. If River Forest loses, one more game will take place on Thursday at 7 p.m. for the title. Of course, if River Forest wins Wednesday, they win the title. Regardless, River Forest figures to be a tough out for either opponent considering the team’s high level of play during the postseason.

River Forest edged LaGrange 8-6 in the state tourney semifinals in Burbank Monday night. Evan Eberle pitched three innings of scoreless relief and Timmy Ward closed out the game on the mound. Jack Willsey provided timely hitting while Mike Gladden and Lou Leonardi played stellar defense. River Forest outslugged Warren Park (Chicago) 12-8 in opening round action.

The team punched its ticket to the state tournament with a dominant showing at the Dundee Sectional. River Forest outscored the opposition 71-11 with wins against Evergreen Park 35-2 and Tri-Cities (twice) 18-0, 18-9.

Eberle and Ward anchor an excellent pitching staff that also features Eric Henkes, Erik Carlson and Jack Willsey. Left fielder Jack Flagg, catcher Thomas Wangelin and Willsey provide power in the lineup, while infielders Mike Gladden, and the Paris brothers, Conor and Martin, are all solid hitters and defenders. Leonardi patrols center field and adds another good bat in the order.

While River Forest is well-stocked with individual talent, teamwork and chemistry have triggered the team’s deep run in the playoffs.

 “As the sectional scores show, we are a strong hitting team. All 11 kids can hit,” assistant coach Lou Leonardi said. “We also have some very deep pitching which helps in tournaments like this and our fielding is good.

“We have been working daily for the past two months to get the kids ready for the playoffs. It has truly been a team effort and all of the kids deserve the credit for their hard work.”

River Forest is vying for its third state title in the 11U state tournament, which began in 2004. River Forest won the championship that year and in 2011. The team’s current players are the 11U All-Stars from the River Forest Youth Baseball Softball League. They are chosen by house league coaches from a pool of approximately 45 players in the league.

“All of these kids have lived in River Forest since they were young so they have played together for a number of years,” Lou Leonardi said. “This summer has been a great experience and a lot of fun for them.”

The Friendly Confines of Keystone Park

In addition to the boys 10-11 year olds team’s success, River Forest has also been hosting the 9/10-year-olds Illinois State Little League State Tournament championship at Keystone Park this week. Teams from Riverside, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, Lansing, Oglesby, Rochelle, Olney and Moline comprise the field of teams vying for the championship.

“The tournament has been wonderful,” said Greg White, President of River Forest Youth Baseball and Softball. “We’re getting huge crowds and we have great food and raffles. We go all out for this tournament and want everybody, especially the kids, to have a memorable and fun experience.

“My kid has been out of the [River Forest Little League] program for 10 years. I’m still a part of because it’s just so much fun. It’s Americana and pure baseball.”

“It’s a real honor and privilege for River Forest to host the tournament,” White said. “We’re on the map in terms of being thought of as one of the premier places in Illinois to host these state tournaments.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...