Larkin right-hander Jack McCracken mainly pitches to contact, but key strikeouts helped him escape two jams in a 4-0 home win against West Chicago Friday morning.
McCracken (3-1) struck out 5 Wildcats overall to notch his first career shutout, three at critical junctures.
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The Royals led 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning when West Chicago's Dave Kordik reached second base on a leadoff infield single and Grant Hosticka's groundout. Larkin's senior pitcher responded by striking out No. 7 hitter Peyton Siedler swinging at a breaking ball, low and away.
West Chicago (6-5, 2-4) mounted a better threat in the sixth. No. 9 hitter Jon Sturm and Austin Kordik started it with singles, but McCracken didn't give in. He induced a fielder's choice groundball to third base for the first out, then struck out West Chicago's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Connor Dall and Jon Michiels, swinging at curveballs with both runners in scoring position.
"I didn't want to give them a fastball to hit so I snapped off the curveball really hard, hoping they would chase," McCracken said. "Last week against Bartlett I was high in the zone, so I just worked on getting lower and lower. They were making a lot of contact but just hitting it on the ground, which was what I wanted. It keeps the pitch count low and keeps me fresher later in the game."
McCracken completed his 5-hitter in 91 pitches. He did not issue a walk.
"When he has to bear down he does," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "He paints the corners, stays at the kneecaps and throws three pitches for strikes. At any level if you can do that, you're going to be in a lot of ballgames."
The defeat extended an unwanted trend for the Wildcats. It was their third straight loss overall and fourth straight against Upstate Eight competition.
"It's been a tough week," said West Chicago coach Dan McCarthy, whose team lost to Streamwood on Wednesday and Batavia on Thursday. "We put together a real good week last week and went 4-1. We were sitting at 6-2. This week we just didn't play well. We didn't swing the bats real well, and they took advantage of some mistakes we made."
The victory snapped a 5-game skid for Larkin (5-6, 1-3), which had scored 5 runs in its previous four games combined.
Rob Bond singles scored Tyler Kalusa (2-for-3) in the third and fifth innings, and Dan Lenz smacked a run-scoring double in the third. McCracken's 1-hopper off the leg of Siedler, West Chicago's starting pitcher, scored Dan Lenz in the sixth inning for the fourth run.
Siedler (1-1) threw all 6 innings. He allowed 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and a walk and struck out four. However, McCracken was sharper.
"Our pitching has been fantastic. They've been pitching lights out," Bond said. "We just haven't been giving them any run support. Once our offense gets consistent, I think we'll be tough."