The River Forest Little League 12U baseball team became the first group in its 67 years of existence to win a state championship over the weekend. The team also won the 11U state title last year and placed second in the 10U state playoffs in 2017.
The team earned its historic state title in dramatic fashion against Tri-Cities. Trailing 6-0 after four innings, River Forest responded with three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to tie the game, and then scored the winning run in the seventh to pull off a 7-6 victory on July 28 at the East Side Tri-Field in Chicago.
Down two runs with two outs in the sixth, River Forest’s Ben Jarnecke and AJ Kilburg provided clutch hits. Jarnecke’s double scored Luke Hickey (who had tripled) and Kilburg’s single scored Jarnecke to make the score 6-6.
With momentum clearly on River Forest’s side, Jimmy O’Brien led off the top of the seventh with a single. After he advanced to second base on a groundout, Spike Gall smacked a double, scoring O’Brien to give River Forest its first and final lead, 7-6.
Jack Paris earned the win with two scoreless innings. Gall also threw well in relief, allowing no runs over 1.1 innings of work.
“This team doesn’t have one or two standout players,” coach Dennis Jarnecke said. “It’s a balanced group with great depth. The players really support each other as well. It’s just a great group of kids.”
The victory felt even sweeter considering the opponent. River Forest and Tri-Cities have squared off the in the state championship game the last three years, with the former taking home titles in 2019 and 2018 (11U) and the latter in 2017 (10U).
“We have been a thorn in each other’s side,” Dennis Jarnecke said. “We’ve had some great games against each other for sure.”
Along with River Forest and Tri-Citites, semifinalists Hinsdale and Salem also competed at the 12U state tourney.
River Forest has a 24-7 record this summer, highlighted by an unblemished mark of 9-0 through the playoff series of district, sectional and state games.
The state champs turn their attention to the Little League Great Lakes Region Tournament in Westfield, Indiana (about 20-30 minutes north of Indianapolis) this weekend. River Forest will face Glendale (Wisconsin state champion) on Sunday, Aug. 4 at 1 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). The regional includes the 12U state champion from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Michigan.
The winner of the Great Lakes Region advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The River Forest 12U players are Jack Paris, Ryan Lazewski, Dutch Navigato, TJ Nix, Ethan Niewoehner, Ben Jarnecke, Matt Carolan Jr., Jimmy O’Brien, Luke Hickey, AJ Kilburg, Spike Gall, Nic Lissuzzo and Joey Elza. The coaches are Dennis Jarnecke, Joe Lazewski and Matt Hickey.