Anyone who figured Huntley's talented baseball team would have a cakewalk against a field of sub-.500 teams at the Class 4A DeKalb regional took a metaphorical pie to the face Saturday, thanks to Dundee-Crown's 3-0 title-game upset.
No. 2 Dundee-Crown (10-18), which placed seventh out of seven teams in the competitive Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, shocked FVC Valley co-champion Huntley (25-7) behind Vince Damato's 4-hit shutout to win the program's eighth regional championship.
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It was the second time in three years D-C shut out the Red Raiders to win a regional title game. The Chargers prevailed 1-0 at Huntley in 2011.
A crafty left-hander, Damato didn't throw hard but he threw strikes. The junior mystified a Huntley lineup that was averaging 7.4 runs and 10.4 hits per game, limiting the Red Raiders to just 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 hit batsmen.
Damato (4-3) effectively neutralized the three Division-I recruits atop Huntley's batting order. Senior Colin Lyman (Louisville), junior Mark Skonieczny (Illinois) and senior Bryce Only (Nebraska) went 1-for-9 combined. Lyman finished 1-for-2 with a walk.
"Make them hit the ball and work to get on base," Damato said of his gameplan against Huntley's big three. "You can't just give them walks and you can't just work around them. You have to make them hit the ball."
Damato constantly shifted between his changeup and cut fastball, relying heavily on those pitches in the last three innings in particular.
"Obviously, we like fastballs but he didn't leave a lot of pitches up where we could punish him for hanging them," Only said. "He threw a lot of pitches down. Credit him for doing that. We can blame this, that and the other, but we didn't get it done today and it stinks."
"We're all shocked," Skonieczny said. "We expected to come out here and play tough. We just couldn't get anything going offensively. We played hard, we fought hard and things just didn't go our way."
Dundee-Crown jumped to a 1-0 lead via an unearned run against Huntley ace Eric Luecht (7-2). An overthrow from third base allowed leadoff man Luis Garcia to reach safely, and D-C senior Ryan Suwanski followed with a single to put runners at the corners for Trent Muscat. He grounded out to first base to drive in the game's first run.
The Chargers scored again in the fourth inning. Suwanski singled with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Damato helped his own cause by lacing an 0-2 pitch to left-center field for a single. Suwanski held up initially to make sure the line drive wasn't caught, but second-year coach John Anderson waved him home anyway. The gamble paid off as the throw from the outfield sailed wide.
"I was hauling and I saw (Anderson's) arms waving," Suwanski said. "We were trying to play an aggressive game and get further ahead."
"If they're going to throw us out, they're going to throw us out at home plate," Anderson said.
The Chargers moved to a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning. Zach Girard singled up the middle with two outs to drive in No. 9 hitter Fabian Gutierrez, who singled and stole second base.
Huntley did bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Tommy Kiriakopoulos led off with the only extra basehit of the game, a double, and Lyman walked with two outs. However, Damato got Skonieczny to ground out to shortstop Garrett Ryan for the final out, setting off a midfield celebration that ended in a D-C dogpile.
"The main thing is we never doubted ourselves," veteran D-C catcher Dylan Kissack said. "We always believed. Going into practice this week we planned to be here. Although no one else expected us to be here, we believed in ourselves and we did it. It feels great with this group of guys. We had some struggles throughout the year, but we're finally getting it together and we're looking to make a run."
Dundee-Crown advances to the Huntley sectional to face FVC Valley rival Prairie Ridge (25-11), which defeated McHenry 7-3. The Chargers did not allow a run in 2 regional victories against DeKalb and Huntley.
"We're starting to play and we're coming together at the right time," Anderson said.