LAKE BLUFF, Ill. — North suburban Lake Forest and Lake Bluff came together in grief as hundreds of people attended a memorial service Sunday in honor of Zachary Porter.
The highly-regarded 20-year-old Lake Bluff college student drowned in an Alaska mud flat a week ago. Among the many seeking to honor Porter’s memory were his former teammates from the Lake Forest varsity baseball team.
The team, with only the sixth-best record in the conference, won a regional championship with a series of stirring come-from-behind victories.
“We’re not just playing for us. We’re playing for a bigger reason, a higher power,” said Lake Forest High School student Sam Larson, who along with his teammates, enjoyed an improbable post-season run.
The Scouts captured the Antioch Regional Championship with an angel on their shoulder. That angel, players say, was the enduring presence of the late Zachary Porter.
“Guys just gravitated towards him,” Porter’s former baseball coach, Ray Del Fava, told WGN News. “His presence is going to last a lifetime.”
Porter, a former Lake Forest pitcher, lost his life on an Alaska mud flat when he was unable to escape from the rising tide.
Todd Porter addressed his son’s former teammates in an attempt to ease any pressure heading into last Wednesday’s sectional playoff game against Cary Grove.
“Stay loose, have fun, play hard, but most importantly pick each other up,” he said.
Former teammate and friend Sheppard Graf stepped up to the plate wearing Zach’s No. 3 jersey at Wednesday’s playoff victory versus Wauconda.
“I was just talking to Zach,” he said. “Going into that, I was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.”
‘Shep’ as his teammates call him, faced a full count after a series of highly unlikely, some might say ‘miraculous’ plays. When the unthinkable happened, his teammates proclaimed it was meant to be.
“There’s no better moment than this,” teammates said.
It was a moment Shepard Graf and his teammates say they will never forget: A walk-off base hit sending the crowd into a state of delirium. The emotion, Del Fava says, was almost too much to bear.
“Tears of sadness, but also tears of joy,” he said. “We were just glad we were able to provide a little bit of happiness with all the sadness around it.”