An unlikely Elgin power surge sparked a sweet return to the American Legion baseball state tournament for the first time in 16 years.
Nick Holze, Drew Stover and Reid Ellis all hit their first homers of the summer and Elgin its postseason offensive onslaught as it rocked Elk Grove early and held on for a 14-8 victory in the tourney's opening game at Jim Sundberg Field in Galesburg.
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"We were a little slow (to start) and played (sluggish) the first time through the order," said Elgin coach Bob Todd after his team had 17 hits. "The second time through we started to hit the ball a little better and the third time ..."
Elgin (27-9) broke through with an 8-run fourth inning to wipe out a 4-2 deficit and advance to the 3:30 p.m. Thursday game against Rock Island (31-8), a 19-8 winner over Mattoon (20-16).
Elk Grove (21-14) will try to avoid elimination at 7 p.m. Thursday when it faces Alton (28-10), a 6-3 winner over Galesburg (38-13).
Stover (4-for-6) and Holze (2-for-5) hit 3-run homers with two outs in the fourth for Elgin. Ten of its runs came with two outs
"You could see they were kind of deflated," Todd said of the big fourth-inning outburst.
"Give them credit," Elk Grove coach Brian Mucha said of a day where the wind was blowing out around 20 mph. "You still have to put good wood on it and they did."
A 3-run homer by leadoff man Thomas Byrne (3-for-5) put Elk Grove up 4-2 in the second. It got within 12-8 in the eighth as reliever Ben Wiertel allowed only 3 runs and 5 hits in 5 innings, Roger Lane went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and 2 RBI and Nick Fillmore drove in 2 runs.
"It would have been easy for us to quit," Mucha said after his team left 14 runners on base.
Luke Duffy (5-1), who Todd called his "1-C" starter, drove down to the game Wednesday morning and pitched into the sixth for Elgin.
"He threw well," Todd said. "He got better (during the game)."
Ryan Hicks was 3-for-5 and Jordan Torres, Ryan Burke and Sam Klein had 2 hits as Elgin won its eighth straight game. Todd said Klein (8-1) would most likely start against Rock Island, which erupted for 10 ninth-inning runs against Mattoon.
"We're on a roll and as long as we keep doing what we do, we've got our 1-2-4 (pitchers) left," Todd said. "(Rock Island) is big, but we've heard that about a lot of teams."
Elk Grove wound up starting Kyle Pollock against Elgin because Mucha said Ryan Hayes had a little tweak in his arm. Lefty Paul Warble starts today and Mucha said Hayes should be able to pitch if the Red Sox stay alive in the tourney.
Now Elk Grove hopes to take the same path it used to claim the Cook County title when it won three straight after losing its opener to Portage Park.
"We're still in the winner's bracket," Mucha said of the tourney setup. "I told the guys we were in the same situation and we have three really good pitchers and need three victories.
"This is very doable. Paul has been lights out all summer and we're confident with him against any team in the state right now."
Mattoon and Galesburg will play an elimination game at noon Thursday.