The Huntley baseball team seemed anything but distracted in Wednesday's 10-2 win over Larkin in a Class 4A DeKalb regional semifinal.
Under the direction of interim coach Matt Sassi for as long as the postseason lasts, the focused Red Raiders showcased errorless defense behind winning pitcher Bryce Only and a tournament-ready offense that generated 8 unanswered runs in response to Larkin's early 1-0 lead.
"What we wanted to do was put the ball in play, put the pressure on them," Sassi said. "We got a few big hits and just went on from there."
No. 1 Huntley (25-6) collected 9 hits against Larkin starting pitcher Jack McCracken compared to 6 for the fourth-seeded Royals and capitalized on 4 errors.
"As a team I believe we were very motivated," said Illinois-bound junior Mark Skonieczny, who went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and 3 RBI. "I thought we had something to prove out here. We've had a rough last week or so and it's good to get the win."
Larkin (11-20) jumped to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, thanks to a hustle play by its co-captains. Catcher Niko Morado beat out a roller to first base as Chris Guzeman alertly raced home from second, beating the throw to the plate.
However, the Red Raiders scored 3 runs in their half of the first, aided by 2 Larkin errors on the same play. Matt Sullivan and Kameron Sallee each drove in runs with groundouts.
"I thought the key to the game -- and I've thought this ever since we won Monday -- was getting out of the first inning either tied or with the lead," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "We got the one run but just didn't pick it up like we normally do. They hit some hard shots at us, but we just didn't pick the ball up like we're capable."
The Red Raiders scored 2 more runs in the second inning, courtesy of Skonieczny's 2-run single. They added 2 runs in the third inning on a one-out double to the right-center field gap by Tommy Kiriakopoulos, which staked the top seed to a 7-1 lead.
"Sometimes, I felt like we were playing the jerseys and you just have to play the game," said Morado, a Roosevelt University recruit. "We hear Huntley's a good team and we know who they've got. They can stick. They had a couple of good hits there, but we gave it to them early and we didn't really bounce back."
Only (4-4) upped Huntley's lead to 8-1 with a fourth-inning, RBI triple, which was more than enough cushion. The senior right-hander held Larkin to 2 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings. He struck out 8 in a 112-pitch outing. Adam Kalish pitched a scoreless seventh.
"We just wanted to win," said Only, who at the plate went 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. "Obviously, we know what the end-all goal is of the team. If we just take care of each day and win each day, there's nothing that can really stop us from obtaining our goal."
Larkin's last gasp came in the sixth. Jon Lenz's sacrifice fly with runners at the corners scored Brayden Royse to trim the deficit to 8-2, but Only induced a groundball to end the inning.
"I'm proud of our guys. We kept fighting," Esterino said. "We could have easily backed off when things weren't going our way, but we fought until the end and that will take our guys a long way after they stop playing baseball."
The Red Raiders tacked on 2 more runs in their half of the sixth against McCracken (10 runs, 5 earned), thanks to Skonieczny's double and Tyler Albright's run-scoring groundout.
Huntley advances to Saturday's regional title game at 2 p.m. against the winner of today's semifinal between No. 2 Dundee-Crown (8-18) and No. 3 DeKalb (9-14).