Lake Park senior Eric Vatch's face was red from windburn and his pitching hand raw from swirling snow squalls as he fired his 78th pitch for a game-ending strikeout in Friday's 5-2 win over Larkin at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg.
Unlike the weather, Vatch improved as the game progressed. He fell behind 2-0 as the Royals touched him for 3 first-inning hits, but the right-hander fought through 38-degree conditions and held Larkin hitless thereafter to seal the Upstate Eight crossover victory.
"I think it took me a little while to settle in," said Vatch, who struck out 8 without issuing a walk. "The snow was coming as I was trying to get ready real fast. Once I settled in I was ready to go. Our 2 games before this got canceled, so we're just glad to be out here playing."
Vatch allowed a leadoff double to center fielder Tyler Kalusa, who scored on a single by No. 3 hitter Chris Guzeman to establish a 1-0 lead for Larkin (3-6, 0-5). Sophomore Dan Lenz staked the Royals to a 2-0 advantage with a two-out single.
Vatch (2-0) then shut the door for Lake Park (9-2, 5-1). The only two Royals to reach base in the final six innings did so via errors in the fifth and seventh innings.
"We started off pretty well, but I think the cold might have gotten in our heads," Kalusa said. "It's hard to see. Once (Vatch) started changing up his pitches it was hard to pick up the ball with the snow. His location was on, too, and he was mixing up his pitches."
"To Eric's credit, he really settled down," Lake Park coach Dan Colucci said.
The Lancers knotted the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the first inning. Tom Spear singled with one out, moved to third on Christian Taugner's single and scored when No. 5 hitter Dom Romito muscled a 3-1 fastball from Larkin starting pitcher Brayden Royse up the middle for a basehit.
"He threw what looked almost like a two-seamer in on my hands that broke over the plate, and I just put it up the middle," Romito said. "It was a big two-out hit. You have to do it on days like this."
Lake Park took the lead for good with a 2-run third inning. Colucci signaled for the hit and run with one out, runners at the corners and Vatch at the plate. He hit behind Larkin's vacating shortstop, who doubled back and fielded the ball but threw low to first base for an error, allowing Anthony Gallina to score the go-ahead run. Gunnar Barlund upped Lake Park's lead to 4-2 with a two-out bloop single to left.
The Lancers added a fifth run in the fourth inning when Devin Rybacki's single to right field allowed Sam Pellegrino to score from second base on a hook slide that beat Jon Jowaski's strong throw.
"They put the ball in play and found a couple of holes and that was the difference," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "Their pitcher settled in a bit and we didn't get a whole lot of offense going in the middle innings. Our pitcher threw well enough to get a win, but we didn't help him out a ton defensively with a couple of plays."
Royse (0-2) allowed 5 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits. He struck out 1 and walked 2.