Grayslake North was growing up as a school while Grayslake Central was building one of the Chicago area's top baseball programs.
A big weekend has the seven-year-old Knights' program in position to reach unprecedented heights. They moved into sole possession of the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division lead as they held on for a 7-5 victory on a chilly and blustery Saturday morning at three-time defending champion Grayslake Central.
"It's huge," said North senior right-hander Adam Gomski, who went 5 innings for the victory and started a 4-run fourth inning with a double. "The coaches earlier this week said to take it game by game, but then we lost the first couple. We came back strong the past couple of days."
And the Knights (15-7, 10-6) continued to see their fortunes take a sudden turn for the better after they rallied with 2 runs in the bottom of the seventh Friday for a 4-3 victory over the Rams (19-10, 10-7). North has two games left with Woodstock and has to finish a suspended game it leads 15-8 against Woodstock North this week while Central finishes with Crystal Lake South and Woodstock North.
"We're in good position now," said North shortstop Carl Russell, who went 2-for-4 with a tiebreaking RBI double in the fourth.
Gomski (4-2) gave up a run in the first on a double to right-center by Ryan Fontana (2-for-4) and an RBI single by Kyle Balling (3-for-4, 2 RBI). But he retired the next 13 hitters and threw only 56 pitches through 5 innings.
"Adam did a nice job of changing speeds and hitting his spots today," said North coach Andy Strahan after Gomski was backed by errorless defense.
"The first inning is not my best," Gomski said with a smile as he had an ice pack on his chest from a one-hop shot by Matt Loeffl that he recovered in time to get the last out of the fourth. "After I got settled down I started hitting my spots, it started flowing from there and my teammates started making great plays."
Center fielder Matt Eney just missed making a diving one on Sam Nozicka's two-out single in the fifth. But third baseman Merrick Gentile made a diving grab of a foul popup after a long run to end the inning.
"Hitting has kind of been our bugaboo all year and we're too passive at the plate, but that doesn't take anything away from Gomski," said Central coach Troy Whalen. "When you can throw three pitches for strikes, and he's able to locate his fastball, curve and changeup, you're going to get a lot of high school kids out."
North manufactured the tying run in the second from infield singles by Russell and Gentile. Gomski and Russell had back-to-back doubles in the fourth and Austyn Ruback (2-for-4) followed with an RBI single.
With two outs, Eney doubled in 2 runs for a 5-1 lead.
"Those two-out hits are backbreakers," Whalen said.
"That was the key for us today, getting those hits with two outs and deep in the count," Strahan said. "Our approach when we're going good is good. Early this week that had fallen off a bit."
Central got consecutive one-out singles in the sixth by Fontana, Balling and Freddi Landers and after Loeffl was hit by a pitch, Strahan brought in starter Ryan Gross to try and close it out for Gomski. Kyle Clark's 2-run single made it 5-4 but Gross got a pair of flyouts to leave runners at first and second.
Singles by second baseman Nick Carmody, Gomski and Ruback and Andrew Mikusa's sacrifice led to 2 big insurance runs in the seventh.
"I think we played a lot better defense, ran a lot better on the bases and strung a lot of clutch hits together," Russell said. "We joke on our team about not trying to hit a 6-run homer but getting a nice hit and driving in the guys we need to."
Balling had a two-out double and Central loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh but Gross got Clark on a soft liner to Carmody.
"Mathematically we're not out of it but the important thing is the trophy is staying in Grayslake and that says a lot about the Grayslake and Lake Villa communities," Whalen said. "The last two days of baseball, even though we came out on the losing end, have been fun to be a part of as a coach."