Junior Alex Niecikowski was having a great day, and that was before the game even started Monday against visiting Palatine.
Niecikowski was celebrating his 17th birthday, and he made it a memorable by leading the Mustangs (16-8-1, 13-1) past Palatine 5-4 to clinch an outright Mid-Suburban East championship.
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As the Mustangs' leadoff hitter, Niecikowski was the sparkplug in the bottom of the first inning as Rolling Meadows poured across 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks as eight hitters came to the plate.
Niecikowski's leadoff single was followed by a walk from left fielder Dan Hendrickson, which led to a bases-clearing triple from the Mustangs' power-hitting catcher, Mike Dolan.
Mickey Wazorick outdid Dolan as he drove a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence to complete the 4-run first inning.
"I thought it was big to come out in the first inning and get some hits early and score some runs," said Rolling Meadows coach Jim Lindeman. "I didn't think the ball was going to carry well to left today with the wind, but it did."
Niecikowski went 3-for-3, with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning which proved to be the go-ahead run.
Rolling Meadows will host MSL West champ Barrington in the title game Friday.
"It was a 2-0 pitch and my coach always told me it has to be mine -- and it definitely was mine," said Niecikowski, who came up a double shy of the cycle.
Palatine hitters needed a few innings against Mustangs senior ace Matt Dennis (7-0) before putting together a big inning. The Pirates loaded the bases in the third inning on a walk and back-to-back hits by Chris Macahon and Jarrod Juskiewicz. A sacrifice fly to center by Greg Grana, followed by a two-out double from right fielder Matt Saltess, brought the Pirates right back in it.
After the 3-run third inning from Palatine (17-13, 10-6), Dennis shut down the Pirates for the remainder of his outing. He went 5 innings, striking out seven while giving up 3 earned runs.
Dennis knew he would need to provide 5 strong innings, as Meadows had him on a pitch count in anticipation of Friday's matchup against MSL West champ Barrington.
"I always want to stay out there, I never want (coach Lindeman) to take the ball from me," Dennis said. "But I know we have a big game Friday and I need to be ready for that."