Any Upstate Eight Conference baseball game involving St. Charles East drips with tension this week as the Saints and Batavia vie for the River Division title.
Senior starting pitcher Matt Sarai calmed some raw nerves Wednesday by limiting Larkin to a lone run on 8 hits, but the Saints didn't exhale collectively until senior Sean Dunne delivered a grand slam in the top of the seventh of a 7-1 victory.
"We were nervous the whole game, for sure," said Dunne, who hit his first varsity home run. "We did not want to go to the bottom of the seventh with it still 3-1. It was nice to have those insurance runs."
The victory improved St. Charles East to 20-10 overall, 17-6 in the UEC River. The Saints remain tied in the loss column with Batavia (24-6, 18-6), which defeated last-place Streamwood 9-5.
Batavia has one UEC game remaining at Streamwood Thursday at 4:30 p.m. St. Charles East hosts Larkin Thursday in the series finale and must complete a suspended game against St. Charles North. That game will likely be resumed Friday, Saints' coach Len Asquini said.
Sarai (7-1) got stronger as the game progressed. He allowed 2 hits in each of the first 3 innings, but gave up only 1 run on Tyler Kalusa's third-inning double. He retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced, notching 5 of his 6 strikeouts in the process.
"I came in trying to execute each pitch," said Starai, who did not issue a walk. "It just worked out that we attacked with the fastball first, then went to the slider to finish them off."
"You could tell Matt was real uncomfortable on the mound until the fourth inning, then he kind of settled in and did a real nice job," Asquini said. " That third time through the lineup he really had it going. That's what you have to do: battle through it and give us a chance."
Larkin (10-18, 7-17) committed 3 errors, 2 of which led to unearned runs and short-circuited its chance to play spoiler.
"We're looking to get better," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "We're not too concerned with what they're doing. We know they're good. We respect them, but we're trying to get better with our approach. We were a little better offensively, being aggressive with the arms they are going to throw at us. It's a good test before the playoffs."
The Saints loaded the bases in the seventh when pinch hitter Isaac Nimick drew a one-out walk, No. 9 hitter Anthony Sciarrino reached on a push bunt and Nicholas Erickson fought off a pair of 2-strike pitches and eventually singled over shortstop.
That set the stage for Dunne, who jumped on a first-pitch fastball and sent it over the fence in left-center field.
"To be honest, they were playing in so I was just trying to get the ball in the air," Dunne said. "I thought it was a flyout at first."