South Elgin baseball victories tend to follow a formula: close games characterized by excellent starting pitching and just enough run support.
The Storm adhered to that formula Friday in a 2-0 upset of No. 5 Glenbard North (19-12) in a Class 4A Wheaton North regional semifinal. No. 11 South Elgin (18-14) scored 2 first-inning runs and junior right-hander Ryan Nutof shut out the Panthers on 5 hits.
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Granted, it can be a hard-to-stomach winning formula due to the inherent tension tight ballgames produce.
"I don't like it," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said though a widening smile. "It gives me an ulcer."
Nutof gave the Panthers fits. He notched 10 strikeouts and issued 2 walks. The shutout improved his record to 5-1 and lowered his earned run average to 0.76 in 37 innings.
"I mean, 2 runs in high school is nothing," said Glenbard North starting pitcher Matt Albin, who struck out 5, walked 1 and allowed only 2 earned runs on 5 hits in 7 innings. "But the other pitcher -- I don't even know his name -- was really good. We heard he was good and threw mid-80s, but we didn't know he was going to blank us."
Nutof did not allow any of the 10 Panthers who reached base safely to advance beyond second.
"I just hit some spots and got a little bit of speed on the fastball, a little extra," he said. "I wanted to keep it low and get groundballs. That was my main goal." Nutof induced 5 groundouts during his 121-pitch outing.
The victory advances South Elgin to the regional title game against host Wheaton North (25-8) today at 10 a.m. The Falcons are seeded third overall in the St. Charles East sectional. The Storm seek the program's third regional championship in four seasons. Wheaton North will vie for its first regional title since 2010.
"I feel confident about how we're playing," South Elgin senior Nick Binder said after his team's sixth straight win. "We're hot as of late. If we bring our A game, we're going to be tough to beat no matter who we're playing."
Binder played a key role in South Elgin's 2-run rally. After leadoff man Dane Toppel doubled down the right-field line to open the game, Binder, a left-handed hitter, drove a 1-2 pitch the opposite way to left field, scoring Toppel to stake the Storm to a 1-0 lead two batters into the game.
Binder took second on Glenbard North's throw to the plate and advanced to third on Joe Crivolio's groundout. Cleanup hitter David Palmer followed with a smart baseball play.
"I saw the infield was playing back, so I was just looking for a groundball I could put in play," Palmer said. "I got one on the first pitch, so I hit a groundball to short to get the run in. We'd like to get more, obviously, but that's what you have to do with a guy on third base with less than two outs."
South Elgin committed 2 errors behind Nutof, including a flubbed groundball with two outs in the seventh that allowed the tying run to step to the plate against a tiring pitcher. However, Nutof got No. 2 hitter Nolan Jasinski to hit a high chopper over the mound. Second baseman Riley Halter fielded the ball at the second-base bag for a game-ending fielder's choice.
"Matt threw exceptionally well and was a tough-luck loser," Glenbard North coach Rich Smelko said. "Unfortunately, we ran into one of the better pitchers around. He's a high-velo guy, so he throws the ball really hard and has a good curveball to match it. We were just overmatched at the plate."