If anyone could tell just how hard St. Charles North pitcher Jake Johansmeier was throwing Thursday more than the 11 Geneva hitters he struck out, it had to be North Stars catcher Nick Gilmore.
"I've been clocked in the low 90s, and it felt that fast (today)," Johansmeier said. "Nick felt it in his hand too. He said his hand was hurting."
Johansmeier tossed a gem in the North Stars' 5-3 win at Geneva to kick off a three-game series between two teams who entered tied in the loss column for the Upstate Eight Conference River Division lead.
Headed to Eastern Illinois next year, Johansmeier was the difference mixing that blazing fastball with a slider, curve and change for the North Stars' ninth straight win.
"I know a bunch of those (Geneva) guys and I was smiling and they were looking right back just smiling," Johansmeier said. "I've played with most of those kids since I stated playing. Honestly it makes it so much easier because when you are growing up with them and from watching them what they can and can't hit, you try it and if they have gotten better which most of them have, props to them. But yeah, it makes it a lot easier throwing my stuff."
Geneva (14-4, 7-4) starter Drew White matched Johansmeier with three scoreless innings, and White breezed through his first three innings needing just 21 pitches and throwing only 3 balls.
But an error to start the fourth opened the door for St. Charles North (13-7, 8-3) to put the first two runs on the board. Johansmeier helped himself with a double to score Brandon Drawant, then he scored on a run-scoring single by John Brodner.
Geneva used aggressive baserunning to get a run back in the fourth. With runners at first and second coach Matt Hahn called for a double steal, and when the throw to third to try to nab courtesy runner Jordan Touro sailed into left field Touro came in to make it a 2-1 game.
The North Stars pushed their lead to 5-1 with three runs in the fifth again aided by some shaky Geneva infield defense. Erik Nelson and Kurt Barbeau ignited the rally with bunt singles.
"Our kids like to bunt," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "They take a lot of pride in it and we work on it a lot. I think sometimes you have to get through the idea if a coach wants you to bunt he thinks you can't hit. We talk about that, it's not the case at all, that's just smart baseball. A couple of those bunts were really good bunts."
Nelson scored after Geneva catcher John Swiderski had Barbeau picked off first. But Barbeau stayed in a rundown between first and second long enough for Nelson to break for home, and when he did Geneva threw the ball away and both runners were safe.
After Drawant's RBI triple plated Barbeau, Geneva made its third error that allowed Drawant to score.
Geneva pulled within 5-3 when Bobby Hess flipped a pitch the opposite way for an RBI double in the sixth, then Hess scored on a single to center from Luke Polishak.
But facing the top of Geneva's lineup in the seventh and with the bullpen busy, Johansmeier got three quick groundball outs on 9 pitches to complete a 113-pitch effort. He allowed 6 hits and 2 walks and hit one batter to go with his 11 strikeouts.
"If he would have put a guy on we would have probably taken him out," Genke said. "He was a bulldog all day. It's a big series, especially the first game of the series. Jake wanted the ball and he proved why."
Drawant and Brodner both had 2 hits for the North Stars while Swiderski led Geneva going 2-for-3.
Geneva lost its No. 3 hitter Matt Brandys when he was ejected asking for an appeal after striking out in the third inning. Brandys also won't be able to play in the first game of the teams' doubleheader Saturday at St. Charles North.
"I don't think it affected this game," Hahn said. "I thought their pitcher threw great. The ball was down, he changed speeds, there's a reason he's pitching at Eastern next year.
"I liked our demeanor, I liked our attitude. They (St. Charles North) are good, they are traditionally the best team in our area. They made us pay for our mistakes. Our defense let us down a little. But one game doesn't make a season, one game doesn't make a series. We'll be ready for Saturday."