Lake Park sent its Brown University bound ace Christian Taugner to the mound in the Class 4A St. Charles East sectional semifinals Wednesday, but the Saints countered with a Star of their own.
Matt Starai handcuffed the Lancers for the second time this season, tossing a 3-hit shutout aided by three double plays in a 6-0 victory over top-seeded Lake Park (27-11).
No. 4 St. Charles East (25-11) will play the winner of Thursday's semifinal between Wheaton North and Bartlett for the sectional title at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Taugner finished the year 10-2 -- with both losses to Starai and the Saints. Pitching on three days rest, he lasted just 3 innings Wednesday and gave up 6 runs, 4 of them unearned as the Lancers defense broke down behind him.
"It's definitely exciting to get to pitch in a sectional game like this," Starai said. "Just got great help from the guys all around today. The defense was great rolling up double plays. Just kept the ball down and get ground balls, get me out of situations. I really trust our guys. They work hard day in and day out. They come out here confident and ready to go."
Starai pitched a gem, facing one over the minimum 21 batters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 22 batters and needed just 71 pitches in an effort that rivaled the pair of 2-hit shutouts he fired at Upstate Eight River co-champ Batavia for the best of his brilliant senior season.
"Any time you do well in a sectional or a playoff game it's a big performance when you can shut another team down completely," said Starai, now 9-1. "When you give your team a chance to move on in the playoffs and go on an incredible run, that's always going to be a big game."
Starai opened with a 9-pitch first inning, threw 5 pitches in the second and 9 in the third. The closest he came to laboring was a 16-pitch fourth inning.
Devin Rybacki had the first hit for Lake Park, a single in the third. Dom Romito and Sam Pellegrino also singled and that was it for the Lancers. Starai struck out six and walked none, throwing just 24 balls and getting just two 3-ball counts.
"Whenever Starai is on the mound everyone just has this confidence that is incomprehensible almost," second baseman Jack Dellostritto said. "We just feel confident any ground ball that comes to us we got it no matter what."
Shortstop Nick Erickson started the first double play, a 6-4-3 in the third. Dellostritto took a grounder, stepped on second base and threw to first in the fourth.
The highlight of those twin killings came in the seventh when Dellostritto somehow snared a one-hop smash from Anthony Gallina, flipped to Erickson who threw to Brian Sobieski at first.
"That one was a rocket for sure," Dellostritto said.
"He (Starai) was super and our defense, how about those two-for-ones," Saints coach Len Asquini said. "They were huge, came at great times, and the last one, that took quite a hop. That was a tough play for Jack."
The Saints grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second. Sobieski singled and eventually scored on a two-out error when a high throw on a routine grounder to short pulled first baseman Romito's foot off the bag.
That turned out to be the first of three costly errors. Lake Park booted grounders to second base and first base to open the floodgates for the Saints' 5-run third inning.
Sobieski delivered the big blow, a 2-run single to right. DelloStritto also singled in a run, and the Saints capped the inning with a double steal with Brannon Barry stealing home.
That ended Taugner's day after 3 innings. Mark Pall entered and pitched 3 scoreless to keep the Lancers within 6-0, but they never solved Starai to conclude a memorable year that saw them win their first conference title since 1996.
"You've seen our worst inning of the year," Lancers coach Dan Colucci said of the third. "It's playoff baseball and you've got to make the routine plays.
"Definitely nothing for us to hang our head about. We had a great year."