After being named Libertyville's opening day starter, Nate Cote struggled during the regular season and found himself moved to the No. 3 role in the Wildcats' rotation.
But Wednesday at the Class 4A Glenbrook North sectional semifinal in Northbrook, Cote looked like his old self, scattering 4 hits as Libertyville ousted Fremd 2-1.
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"This is easily the best game I pitched all year," said Cote, who struck out two while improving to 5-2. "I had some arm trouble early in the year. But I was able to come back today and help my team, thanks to some great defense behind me."
That defense included throwing out one Fremd runner at home while catcher Evan Skoug threw out one runner stealing and picked off another at second base in the top of the seventh.
"It's not too often that guys try to steal bases," said Skoug, who will attend TCU next year. "When they do, it's a blood rush for me. I made two good throws and got both of them."
Libertyville (25-11) advanced to the sectional finals for the first time in 13 years. The Wildcats meet the winner of Thursday's Stevenson-Glenbrook South game for the sectional championship at 10 a.m. Saturday.
"We felt confident of what we knew about these guys," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. "It was about carrying out a plan. And other than hitting three kids, I thought Cote pitched a great game."
Fremd (20-12) got another outstanding performance from starter Jon Escobar, who moved from closer to starter midway through the season. Escobar allowed just 2 hits while fanning eight. But a walk and error caught up to him.
"It was a tough loss," Escobar said. "But that's baseball. Last time I pitched we got Viator 1-0. This time we got the short end of the stick."
Escobar walked Jimmy Govern to open up the bottom the first. Govern then advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Kevin Calamari's single to left, sliding to just avoid the tag of Greg Money.
Fremd came back to tie the game in the second.
Sam Beutler singled and Marcus Middlebrook was hit by a pitch. They both moved up a base on Money's sacrifice bunt. After a short flyout, Randy Wilt singled to center, scoring Beutler. But Libertyville center fielder Justin Guarnaccio threw a perfect strike to Skoug to cut down Middlebrook.
Libertyville had a chance to take the lead in the fourth, but again an out at the plate ended the inning.
With one out, Govern walked and pinch runner Riley Lees got to third on a throwing error. With the Fremd infield drawn in, Matt Vogt lifted a soft hit just over the infield, but Govern held his ground.
Guarnaccio hit a fly to Fremd center fielder Matt Isola, who threw the ball to Money just as Lees collided with Money about 2 feet up the third base line, jarring the ball loose. However, the umpire ruled that Lees failed to avoid contact and ruled him out.
Libertyville did get a successful sacrifice fly for the eventual game-winning run. Conor Simpson reached second on an infield error and then advanced to third on a wild pitch. After an intentional walk, he scored on a deep fly to left by Calamari.
Fremd had one last chance to tie when Austin Jetel was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a bunt by Escobar. But Skoug caught Jetel drifting off of second, and Cote got a groundout to end the inning.
"I saw him leaning on the previous pitch," Skoug said. "So I signaled the middle infielders and we got him."
"I thought we played flawless defense," Schurr said. "We made every play we had to make."
Fremd coach Chris Piggott, whose team advanced to their first sectional in 11 years, was disappointed in the outcome but proud of his team.
"Nobody expected us to be here," Piggott said. "We graduated eight starters last year. But this group fought hard all year. We just didn't make plays when we needed them."
Niles West sectional
Oak Park-River Forest defeated New Trier 4-1 on Wednesday to advance to Saturday's 10:30 a.m. sectional championship game.
The top-seeded Huskies will meet either No. 2 seed Elk Grove or No. 3 seed Maine South, who compete in a semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.