St. Charles East respected Libertyville junior catcher Evan Skoug enough to walk him intentionally in his second at-bat Friday at the Class 4A state semifinals at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
The next time through the order, Skoug came up with the bases loaded leaving the Saints had no choice but to pitch to him.
Skoug quickly got down in the count two strikes, but on a 1-2 curve ball from Troy Dykhuis, Skoug crushed the ball way over the right-field fence, completely out of the stadium and onto the roof of a truck parked nearby.
The grand slam gave the TCU-bound Skoug 8 home runs and 45 RBI this year, and — much more importantly — a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning. That was enough of a cushion to withstand a 4-run Saints fifth-inning rally and eventually win 9-6, putting the Wildcats in the state championship game for just the second time in school history and first since 1976.
Libertyville (28-11) will play Mt. Carmel (33-8), an 8-0 winner over Neuqua Valley, looking for its first state title at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s surreal,” said Wildcats leadoff hitter Jimmy Govern who went 3-for-3, scored 2 runs and played flawless defense on six chances at shortstop. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I can remember. It’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.”
St. Charles East (27-12) walked Skoug in the third inning with Matt Reed at third base and Noah Greenberg at second and two outs, much to the dismay of the Wildcat fans and Skoug himself.
“The first time they walked me I was a little frustrated because no one likes to get walked,” Skoug said. “When I came up with the bases loaded I knew there was nowhere they could put me.”
Following the intentional walk, Saints starter Nick Huskisson threw a wild pitch to score Reed, then hit Matt Vogt to force in Greenberg and make it 2-0.
The Saints cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth on a two-out triple down the right-field line from Isaac Nimick after Huskisson led off the inning with a single.
Huskisson didn’t make it out of the bottom of the fourth. P.J. Neumann led off with a single, Reed (1-for-1, 2 walks, 2 runs) walked on four pitches and Govern chased Huskisson with an RBI double to deep left.
“I was a little disappointed with myself on the mound today,” said Huskisson, who fell to 7-2. “Obviously I didn’t have my best stuff but that was a good Libertyville team.”
Dykhuis entered and got Connor Simpson to ground to third. The Saints third baseman first tried to tag the runner at third, then threw late to first, loading the bases for Skoug.
If the Saints would have got the out at first leaving runners at second and third, Saints coach Len Asquini said he would have walked Skoug again.
“That base is open we’re going to put him right back on,” Asquini said. “We didn’t want to let him beat us. I thought our guy threw a nice curve ball down at the knees and he went and got it. He’s a good hitter.”
Skoug also homered on a curve ball against Stevenson last Saturday in the sectional championship game.
“I knew he could do some damage with the right pitch in the right situation,” Wildcats coach Jim Schurr said. “So many people just pitch around him. He ends up working the count until he gets his pitch. Most of his home runs are with two strikes because he knows what to swing at and what not to swing at. He doesn’t see many good pitches to hit so he’s become a very smart hitter, a very selective hitter.”
A three-year starter, Skoug said losses in the regional championship game his first two years have been fueling him during this postseason run.
“Coming into season I realized what we’ve been missing out on,” said Skoug, who was hit in the eye in his first at-bat Friday. “Usually when I see bases loaded my eyes get too big for myself and usually ends up in me flying out or rolling over. I trust my hands enough that I can sit on fastball and wait on the curveball and let it rip.”
The Saints outhit the Wildcats 11-8 and quickly bounced back after the grand slam, knocking out winning pitcher Jeff Burton (8-2 record, 9 hits, 5 earned runs, 2 strikeouts, 0 walks) in the fifth.
No. 9 hitter Anthony Sciarrino started the rally with an infield single. After a Sean Dunne single, Northwestern-bound Joe Hoscheit (3-for-4) singled in Sciarrino.
Brian Sobieski went the opposite way for a 2-run double down the right-field line, and Brannon Barry also went to the opposite field for a single to score Sobieski and turn the 7-1 deficit into a 7-5 game.
“I love our battle back after the big home run. We could have our heads down and let that game finish up 7-1,” Asquini said. “We put up a 4-spot and got right back in the ballgame. That shows a lot of heart, and I wouldn’t expect anything else from them.”
“Everybody was trying to stay upbeat,” Hoscheit said. “I know it was tough because that grand slam took the wind out of our sails a little bit. It was awesome to see us come back and rally after that.”
Lefty Mitchell Townsend replaced Barton and struck out Nimick looking to end the fifth. The Wildcats scored a pair of insurance runs in the sixth, with Govern and Skoug — who combined to go 5-for-5 and get on base all seven of their official at-bats — both singling.
Asquini brought in his ace Matt Starai to try to strand those runners, but a costly infield error followed by Justin Guamaccio’s infield single gave the Wildcats a 9-5 lead going to the seventh.
“I thought we gave them a few too many outs that came back and haunted us at certain times,” Asquini said. “We needed to play a little cleaner game to beat a good Libertyville team. We didn’t do that.”
Townsend held the Saints in the sixth before giving way to Kevin Calamari after Hoscheit’s leadoff double in the seventh.
Barry drove in Hoscheit with a ground ball. Calamari then ended the game on a grounder to third.
“The kids have believed all along,” Schurr said. “It takes some breaks and it takes getting hot at the right time and that’s working for us.”
Schurr wouldn’t reveal his starting pitcher for the championship game while Asquini said the Saints might use a committee — possibly headed by the 10-1 Starai who threw 23 pitches in the sixth inning — against fellow Upstate Eight Conference member Neuqua Valley. The Wildcats defeated the Saints earlier this year, handing Starai his only loss.
“We wanted to play Neuqua but not for third or fourth place,” Asquini said. “We’re gong to lick our wounds tonight and come out fresh tomorrow and try to get that third-place trophy.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.