Class 4A baseball state semifinal
Who: Libertyville Wildcats (27-11-1) vs. St. Charles East Fighting Saints (27-11)
When: 5 p.m., today
Where: Silver Cross Field, Joliet
Libertyville's road to Joliet: Defeated Lake Forest (6-2) and Glenbrook North (7-6) in the Lake Zurich regional; defeated Fremd (2-1) and Stevenson (2-0) in the Glenbrook North sectional; defeated Maine South (5-3) in the RiverHawks Stadium 1 supersectional.
St. Charles East's road to Joliet: Defeated Glenbard East (2-1) and Geneva (5-2) in the Geneva regional; defeated Lake Park (6-0) and Wheaton North (5-3) in the St. Charles East sectional; defeated Jacobs (7-2) in the RiverHawks Stadium 2 supersectional.
State finals history: Libertyville placed second in the state in 1976 under head coach Ernie Ritta. The Wildcats lost in the state title game to Brother Rice, 5-4. St. Charles East won the AA state championship in 1999 under current head coach Len Asquini. The Fighting Saints did not place during their appearance in 2002 and took fourth in 2004.
Scouting Libertyville: Having scored 10 or more runs seven times this season, Libertyville has some offensive power. But the Wildcats haven't showed it much during the playoffs, averaging just 4.4 runs per game. "I'm waiting for our bats to explode," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. "We've been relying on good pitching and solid defense and we've been getting just enough offense. But I know we are capable of scoring a lot of runs." Individually, the Wildcats have put up some impressive offensive numbers. Five players boast batting averages better than .360. Catcher Evan Skoug leads the way with a .440 batting average and a team-high 48 hits. He's also smacked 7 home runs and driven in 41 runs, both of which are also tops on the team. Jeff Barton is hitting .400 while Kevin Calamari (.391), Jimmy Govern (.374) and Connor Simpson (.369) aren't far behind. Calamari is second on the team in both hits (45) and RBI (39). He's also got 15 doubles. Govern and Matt Vogt both have 37 hits apiece … On the mound, Barton has a team-leading 7 victories (7-2) and has rolled up 43 strikeouts in 55 innings. He's got a 2.16 earned run average. Jason Buss is 6-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He's got 28 strikeouts in 42 innings. Meanwhile Nate Cote has 4 wins (4-3). "Our pitching has been keeping us in every game in the tournament," Schurr said. "If we can score 5 to 6 runs, we'll be right there. So far, we've been able to do that, but I think we should be able to score even more."
Scouting St. Charles East: St. Charles East boasts a star on the mound in Matt Starai. He's 10-1 with a stingy 0.54 ERA. He's also rolled up 84 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched. But as good as Starai has been, the pitching staff isn't just a one-man show. Nick Huskisson (7-1) and Troy Dyhkuis (5-3) have 12 wins between them. Huskisson has a 1.23 earned run average with 75 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched while Dyhkuis has a 1.76 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched … Offensively, St. Charles East has been inconsistent and features only one hitter with a batting average above .350. Joe Hoscheit leads the Saints with a .355 batting average and a team-high 43 hits. Brian Sobieski leads the team in RBI (23) and doubles (13).
Community pride: A trip downstate has been a long-time coming for Libertyville. "It's been 37 years, actually," said Libertyville coach Jim Schurr, who is the first coach to take the Wildcats downstate since their second-place finish in 1976. "This is pretty surreal, hard to put into words. I feel like we've had good teams in the past and we've been doing the right things, but sometimes you just need a little magic and things to go your way and we've gotten that this year." The Wildcats are now getting support from all angles. Schurr says he's heard from people all over the community and that he's gotten dozens of e-mail from alums and fans. "I even heard from one guy who was a pitcher on that 1976 team," Schurr said. "It's been really neat." This week at practice, Schurr brought in all kinds of speakers to fire up his team, such as former Libertyville football coach Randy Kuceyeski, who led the Wildcats to a state title in 2004. Several former athletes from Libertyville who won state titles there also made appearances. "I want our guys to hear from people who have been there so they know what it takes," Schurr said. "And I also want them to soak in this moment and to realize how special this experience is."
Next: Winner moves to the Class 4A state championship game (5:30 p.m., Saturday) and faces the winner of the other semifinal between Mt. Carmel and Neuqua Valley. The loser plays the other semifinal loser in the third-place game (3 p.m., Saturday).
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw