A breathtaking game had senior Kevin Calamari gasping for air.
"I'm still not breathing," the reliever joked after saving Libertyville's 5-3 win over Maine South in a Class 4A supersectional at Aviators Stadium in Loves Park by pitching 3 scoreless innings. Calamari then survived a rugby scrum of euphoric Wildcats on the infield.
Funny, in the Maine South fifth, the Hawks appeared on the verge of sucking the air out of Libertyville's magical season.
But after their second such mob celebration in as many games, the Wildcats are headed to state for the first time since 1976, when they finished second. Libertyville (27-11) will play St. Charles East (27-11), a 7-2 winner over Jacobs in Monday night's second game at Aviators Stadium, at 5 p.m. Friday in a state semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
"It feels great," said Libertyville junior right fielder Conor Simpson, who went 3-for-3 with a 2-run single in the top of the fourth that proved to be the difference in the game. "We had this goal to get here, actually, since day one of workouts. We stuck with it, and we're here. We made it."
It wasn't easy for Libertyville, despite scoring 3 runs in the top of the first on Evan Skoug's 2-run double and Justin Guarnaccio's sacrifice fly and then extending the advantage to 5-0 on Simpson's clutch hit.
"I just felt good," Simpson, who was hit by a pitch in the first and scored on Skoug's double, said of his perfect day at the plate. "I felt like I was seeing the ball well, and everything was just clicking."
Wildcats starting pitcher Jason Buss was sailing along until Maine South's leadoff hitter in the fourth reached on an error. Buss later walked Adam Depkon to force in a run, and an errant throw resulted in another run scoring. The Hawks wound up plating 3 runs in the inning.
Then in the bottom of the fifth, with Calamari on in relief, back-to-back singles by John Cerniglia and Frank Perrone and another error gave Maine South a second-and-third situation with none out. In short time, Libertyville, which had been playing stellar defense since the state tournament started, was guilty of booting a groundball, throwing wildly, failing to cover on a pickoff try, standing and watching and, in general, losing focus in its biggest game of the season.
Out of the dugout hustled Wildcats coach Jim Schurr, who held a mound conference with his infield.
"He basically told us to buckle down," Calamari said. "It was the home stretch and we were still winning, even though it felt like we were behind with the momentum (Maine South) had."
Calamari responded by getting a strikeout, groundball to shortstop and grounder to second base to escape the inning unscathed.
Libertyville had seized the momentum back.
"I went out there to calm them down," Schurr said. "I said, 'Hey, fellas. We're missing a good game here.' "
Maine South (24-10) never threatened again.
Calamari retired the Hawks in order in the sixth and again in the seventh, finishing with 4 strikeouts in his 3 frames. Buss earned the win, pitching 4 innings of 3-hit ball. All the runs he allowed in the fourth were unearned. Calamari, who's made only a handful of appearances on the mound all season (all in relief), did his job too.
"He's been a spot guy for us," Schurr said of Calamari, who was starting at first base early in the season before settling in at designated hitter. "We really haven't had to go to him, but every time we have, he's been a guy who we know is going to have great command of 2-3 pitches and is going to be around the zone. He's not going to overpower a ton of guys, but he's going to pitch to contact, and we play pretty good defense."
After Simpson's 2-run single made it 5-0, Skoug doubled for the second time to put runners on second and third. But a strikeout and groundout allowed Maine South to escape without further damage. Earlier in the game, the Wildcats loaded the bases with none out but failed to score.
"We had our chances to blow those innings open," Schurr said.
The Wildcats had just enough, however, to end the season of a Maine South squad that had won 11 in a row.
"I'll tip my hat to Libertyville," Maine South coach Bill Milano said. "That's the best hitting team we've seen all year. Jimmy does a great job with those guys. They foul off tough pitches and then they hit the ball where it's pitched, especially with two strikes."