Some instant classics take time to develop, as was the case with the Huntley baseball team's 5-1 victory in 11 innings at Cary-Grove Tuesday.
The battle for first place in the highly competitive Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference between top-ranked Huntley (20-3, 12-3) and No. 9 Cary-Grove (16-6, 10-4) was stalemated due to great defensive plays and excellent pitching by both sides until the Red Raiders broke through for 4 runs in the 11th inning.
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"Pitching and defense wins ballgames and our pitching and defense gave us a chance to get our offense going," said Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski, whose program reached the 20-win plateau for the fifth straight season.
Illinois recruit Mark Skonieczny, whose sixth-inning solo home run off Cary-Grove starting pitcher Brandon McCumber had tied the game 1-1, led off the top of the 11th with an infield single.
Nebraska-bound Bryce Only showed bunt on the first 2 pitches of his ensuing at-bat, but Jakubowski switched gears on the third pitch and instead signaled for a hit-and-run. Only promptly laced a double to the left-center field gap, scoring Skonieczny from first base to give Huntley its first lead of the game.
"The job is to get it on the ground somewhere," Only said of the hit-and-run, "but I was fortunate enough to get a pitch up and drive it."
Matt Sullivan singled in the third run and Tommy Kiriakopoulus drove two more home with a basehit up the middle to cap the rally, which made a winner of reliever Tommy Regan (3-0). He induced a popup to first base with Cary-Grove runners at the corners to end the game.
The Trojans lacked the timely hit. They put runners at second base with less than two outs in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings but did not score. Cary-Grove had 6 hits and drew 6 walks in the game, but scored its only run on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly when Matt Sutherland drove in Daniel Vilardo.
"Several times we had opportunities with guys at second," Cary-Grove coach Don Sutherland said. "We either bunted him to second or stole second. We were successful getting them to that base, but that isn't the one you get credit for. In the extra innings we had opportunities."
Both pitching staffs impressed, particularly the respective starters. McCumber went 7 innings, allowing only 1 run on Skonieczny's homer. He walked 3 and struck out 1. Andrew Brierton (3-2) relieved him in with one out in the eighth and held the Red Raiders scoreless until Only's game-winning double.
Only limited Cary-Grove to 1 earned run on 2 hits over 88 pitches in 6 innings, striking out 5 while walking 3. He gave way to Adam Kalish, a sidearmer who allowed just 1 hit and 2 walks in 3 scoreless innings. Regan threw 2 scoreless relief innings to notch the win.
The victory gave Huntley a 1-game cushion in the loss column with 4 FVC Valley games to play.
"Obviously, we've put ourselves in pretty nice position so far, but we've still got to finish the deal," Jakubowski said.
The teams conclude their 2-game series Thursday in Huntley.