With the way St. Charles East righty Kyle Cook and Lyons Township lefty Quinton Hughes were trading goose eggs in Wednesday's Lawler Classic semifinal at Benedictine University, the outcome seemed destined to come down to one big play.
Turns out there were two key plays, and neither went the Saints' way.
Lyons Township capitalized on a pair of controversial calls -- and some lights-out pitching from Hughes -- to end the Saints' summer season with a 1-0 victory.
Lyons (26-6) will play St. Rita Thursday night, going for its second straight summer state championship. The Saints finished at 21-14 after qualifying for state for the sixth time.
Locked in a 0-0 game in the sixth inning, Lyons put runners at the corners with no outs. Cook induced a dribbler up the first baseline, and he hustled to field the ball and flip to catcher Adam Rojas who applied the tag as a headfirst sliding Max Larsen touched the plate.
It was a bang-bang play, and Larsen was called safe much to the dismay of the Saints faithful.
"My catcher Adam Rojas and my first baseman Ben Smith were calling me home, home and I thought we had him there, I thought we got the tag down but I guess not," Cook said.
"Max Larsen, his slide at the plate was key," Lyons coach George Ushela said. "It was close and the umpire made a close call. He could have banged him. I'm thinking it was the right call, but I'm kind of biased."
Cook proceeded to work out of the sixth inning without allowing another run, but that one run on a ball hit no more than 30 feet proved to be the difference.
"Bang-bang, I had a real good view and I thought we tagged him," Saints coach Len Asquini said. "Of course I'm going to think he tagged him before."
Turns out the arguments were just beginning. In the seventh, Ben Smith drew the only walk Hughes allowed, and pinch runner John Finn stole second.
But the home plate umpire ruled batter's interference on Erik Anderson on the play, sending Finn back to first and Anderson back to the dugout for the second out.
Instead of a runner at second base and one out, the Saints had a runner at first and two outs, and Hughes retired Jake Milosch on a grounder to end the game.
Asquini argued the interference call on the field, especially because Anderson didn't swing on the play, but afterward didn't place any blame for the loss on the calls.
"Either way whether they were right calls or not we needed to do a better job offensively," Asquini said. "We never got somebody to second base. I was lonely at third, didn't get to say high to anybody."
The close calls at the end overshadowed a classic pitcher's duel. The innings flew by as Hughes held the Saints to 1 hit while Cook limited Lyons to 5 hits, just 2 in the first five innings.
Hughes only needed 67 pitches to throw his complete game, just 19 of those balls. He retired the first 13 batters until Milosch delivered the Saints' only hit, a line single to center in the fifth.
Hughes barely broke a sweat in several of the innings, needing six pitches to retire the Saints in the second, five in the fourth and six in the sixth as St. Charles East took an aggressive approach.
Cook also worked some quick innings including a 9-pitch second and 6-pitch fifth. He struck out three -- same as Hughes -- and walked two.
"Just waiting to see who was going to crack first and I didn't want it to be me," Cook said. "I was just going out and throwing my best pitches trying to keep my counts low and go at them every pitch. Congrats to their pitcher, great game for him and great duel."
Neither team made an error. It took 60 minutes for the teams to play the first five-and-a-half innings.
"I'd like to compliment St. Charles East," Ushela said. "Their kid pitched real well too. Their shortstop (Milosch) made some nice plays."
Cook, who shut out St. Charles North last week, was one of the bright spots on a St. Charles East pitching staff that looks primed for a big spring in 2014.
"Our pitching is going to be huge this year," Cook said. "If we can have those four guys who can go out there and go to war for us I think we'll do pretty well with our pitching."
Asquini agreed, and said the entire team's improvement made the summer a success. It was the first time the Saints qualified for state in the spring and summer in the same year.
"The way we played after the first two weeks of summer, this the furthest thing from our mind to be playing at this point of the season," Asquini said. "We were not very sharp all the way around. We had lots of things to work on. When you pitch and play defense you are in a ballgame. That's what we hope for and build all our teams. That was big and important for our summer. Our pitching staff really came a long way. That's big to take away from our summer."