Although an official strike zone is from the letters to the knees and the width of the plate, pitchers know that they have to adjust to every umpire's interpretation of it.
Libertyville's Jeff Barton did just that and was able to shackle Stevenson in the Class 4A sectional final at Glenbrook North in Northbrook.
Barton struck out eight while scattering 2 hits, as Libertyville blanked North Suburban Conference rival Stevenson 2-0.
"The first inning I threw a high-and-outside pitch and he called it a strike," said Barton, who threw 101 pitches, 67 which were strikes. "So I said, 'OK, I'll work with it.' "
Libertyville coach Jim Schurr was impressed with Barton's outing.
"He was very crafty," Schurr said. "And he hit his spots well. It was as near close to a perfect game of pitching that you can have out there. I don't remember when I saw someone pitch that well."
It was the Wildcats' first sectional title since 1976. They will meet Maine South at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Rockford supersectional at Riverhawks Stadium.
"We are elated right now," Schurr said. " I am really happy for the boys. This is a unified group that works real hard."
The Wildcats have been getting terrific pitching of late. Barton's performance comes on the heels of Nate Cote's 2-hit, 2-1 victory over Fremd last Wednesday.
"It has been nerve-racking," Schurr said. "We have had chances to score runs to help our offensive side of the game. But we haven't. Thank goodness our pitchers have been holding other people down."
Barton, who improved to 7-2 on the year, outdueled Stevenson's Mitchell Goll, who allowed just 4 hits and took the tough-luck loss.
"Our kid pitched good, but their kid pitched great," Stevenson coach Paul Mazzuca said. "Mitchell made just one bad pitch. Their kids took advantage of our mistakes."
Stevenson (21-12), which split its two games with Libertyville during the regular season, had runners in scoring position in the first and third and a runner on in first in the second. But each time, Barton was able to settle down and get a strikeout to end the inning.
"This is the best I threw all year," Barton said. "I was locating the fastball outside most of the game. The curveball would start on the outside corner and break even more."
Libertyville was able to scratch out the only run it needed in the third, thanks to a couple of hits and a key throwing error.
With one out, Jimmy Govern was batting and unable to call timeout. He responded by lining a single to center. Connor Simpson, who was down 0-2 in the count, battled it full before also lining to center. Evan Skoug was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
Kevin Calamari, who had 2 RBI in each of the last two games, dribbled the ball back to Goll, who fired home. But the relay to first for the inning-ending double play, sailed into right field, scoring Simpson. Skoug over ran third and was eventually out after being in a rundown to end the inning.
"Kevin Calamari has been our hottest hitter," Schurr said. "If you were going to tell me that he was going to hit a comebacker, a nub shot back to the pitcher, I would have said 'No way.' It wasn't pretty. But we will take it."
Libertyville first baseman Matt Vogt came up with two tough catches on pop flies and another defensive gem on an unassisted putout, as the Wildcats showed a bit of leather on their end.
Libertyville had a chance to increase its lead when Matt Reed belted a deep fly over the head of Stevenson center fielder Jimmy Marchese for a leadoff triple. It was Goll's turn to bear down, retiring the next three batters to keep the score at 1-0.
In the Stevenson sixth, Willie Bourbon, who doubled earlier, beat out an infield hit to lead off the inning. After a successful bunt by Greg Voss, Barton got a popout.
The Wildcats then chose to intentionally walk Zach Novoselsky, who was 3-for-4 in Friday's win over Glenbrook South. The strategy paid huge dividends as Barton got Goll looking at a third strike.
Skoug, who had framed the strike behind the plate, then delivered a mammoth 425-foot drive to left center that ended up in the parking lot near his team's bus.
"I didn't even see it land, to be honest," said Skoug, who has 7 dingers on the year. "As soon as I hit it, I knew. I just wanted to get home as fast as possible to see my teammates. It was curveball up. And it felt real good when I hit it."
Barton came back in the seventh to retire Stevenson in order to send the Wildcats to Rockford.
"I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to be with," Skoug said. "We just want it more. Everyone is feeding off each other and it is great."
Mazzuca, whose team began the season with a 4-6 record, was pleased at how far his team had come this season.
"It was a tough start to this season," said Mazzuca, who loses just three starters. "But we made it to the sectional championship game. I could not be more proud of these guys right now."