In about as good of a spring season as any pitcher could have, St. Charles East senior Matt Starai got a chance Saturday to avenge the only thing that went wrong when he faced Neuqua Valley in the Class 4A third-place game at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
Starai entered the final game of his senior season with a 10-1 record and 0.54 ERA including three postseason wins.
The only blemish on that record? A 4-0 loss to Neuqua Valley when the Upstate Eight Conference foes met in May.
Starai got his second chance against the Wildcats Saturday and didn't disappoint. Pitching on back-to-back days for the first time this year after he threw 24 pitches in relief Friday in the semifinals, Starai battled through five innings for a 6-4 victory.
His line of 3 runs, 7 hits, 4 strikeouts and 1 walk might not be the overpowering one Saints fans became used to this spring, but it capped a week when he won a supersectional game Monday and pitched in a high leverage inning Friday against Libertyville.
"It's (pitching consecutive days) a little bit different but you still have to go out and execute every pitch and if you do it you can be successful," Starai said.
"They (Neuqua) got a hold of me the first time and I wanted to come out and compete today and show them I was better than that. I might not have had my best stuff but I wanted to go out and compete and give us a chance to take third."
Starai did just that, pushing his record to 11-1 and the Saints to 28-12. St. Charles East adds the 2013 third-place trophy to its 1999 state championship and fourth-place finish in 2004.
"These guys have made a mark," Saints coach Len Asquini said. "We're very, very happy for the seniors and the other guys who did it for our program.
"Matt was a battler out there. He was running on empty and he kept going and Troy Dykhuis came in there and did a real nice job to finish the last two innings."
Neuqua Valley's leadoff hitter, Jeff Evak, drove Starai's first pitch to deep right -- Brannon Barry tracked the ball down on the warning track -- as the Wildcats came in with an aggressive approach.
"We knew early in the year he would get ahead of people and use his good off-speed stuff," Wildcats junior Matt Butler said of Starai. "You want to find his fastball early in the count and jump on it. If he gets ahead of you, you are in a tough place because he'll throw a curve ball and I don't even know what else he throws but it's sick."
St. Charles East scored first with a 2-out rally in the first. Joe Hoscheit and Nick Huskisson singled to put runners on the corners, and after Brian Sobieski just missed a 2-run double inches foul down the right-field line, Wildcats starter Danny Mokrzycki uncorked a wild pitch to score Hoscheit.
Neuqua Valley took its only lead with two runs in the second. Butler doubled and scored on Matt Wollnik's single. A wild pitch from Starai scored John Michael McMahon to put the Wildcats up 2-1.
That turned out to be a short-lived lead after the Saints' 4-run second to chase Mokrzycki. The problems began for Mokrzycki when he walked the Saints' No. 7, 8 and 9 hitters on a total of 15 pitches.
Leadoff hitter Nicholas Erickson doubled just inside the first-base bag to score two runs. With two outs, Hoscheit ripped a 2-run single to give the Saints a 5-2 lead and end Mokrzycki's day.
"My performance today was definitely not what I wanted," said Mokrzycki, who was 8-0 coming into the game and lost for the first time in his high school career.
"What killed me today is I just could not find the strike zone. I just didn't have a feel for anything. I couldn't throw fastballs over the plate. I put my team in too much of a deficit to get out of."
Both teams added a run in the third -- Butler had an RBI single for the Wildcats and Anthony Sciarrino a suicide squeeze bunt for the Saints -- to leave the Saints with a 6-3 lead after three innings.
Both pitchers took over from there. Jonathan Vlk tossed three scoreless innings for the Wildcats while Dykhuis relieved Starai in the sixth. The Saints' defense turned a rare 5-6-3 putout when a rocket from Dylan Goss deflected off a diving Sean Dunne's glove at third base to Erickson at shortstop who threw to Sobieski at first for the out.
Wildcats catcher Alex Wolanski's 2-out, 2-strike single in the seventh scored Evak, cutting the Saints' lead to 6-4 and putting the tying runs on base before Dykhuis ended the game by striking out Butler.
"We had a great season and it was great to end on a great note coming down to state and ending on a win," said Starai who is going to take more college visits now that the year is over and said he might go to a junior college before trying to move on to a bigger program. "Not too many teams get to say they ended their career on a win."
Erickson and Hoscheit both had 2 hits to lead the Saints' attack. Hoscheit finished his stellar Saints career with a bang before he heads off to Northwestern, going 5-for-7 in his two games at state with 3 RBI and 3 runs scored.
"It's a weird feeling," Hoscheit said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm just glad we could go out with a win. It would have been a terrible feeling to go out with a loss."
Butler, third baseman Drew Sterioti and second baseman Mike Riesner all had 2 hits for the Wildcats who ended the year at 30-11. Their fourth-place finish this year follows a 2007 state championship and third-place finish in 2008.
"I'm telling you the truth, I'm lucky to be where I'm at because our community puts out baseball player after baseball player," Wildcats coach Robin Renner said. "The families that live in our district are amazing. They are supportive. The players work hard. I am a very small part of it. I could be working at a lot of different schools but I am blessed and fortunate to be working at Neuqua Valley where baseball is important. They play hard, they work hard, they play well, and they are great character young men."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.