Baseball has its share of unusual plays that are often difficult to explain.
The top of the fifth inning of Tuesday afternoon's cross-town grudge match between St. Charles North and St. Charles East included one of the more bizarre plays you're ever going to witness.
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Trailing 4-2, the North Stars had runners on second and third with 1 out when junior reliever Mick Vyzral was brought in to face senior designated hitter Joe Kuczek.
Then the plot thickened.
On a 1-2 count, Vyzral got Kuczek to swing at a breaking ball in the dirt for what appeared to be the second out of the inning.
After faking a throw to third, Saints catcher Adam Rojas fired the ball to first baseman Ben Smith as Kuczek raced down the line on the dropped third strike. The ball glanced off Kuczek's helmet, sailed by Smith and rolled past right fielder Austin Regelbrugge all the way to the bullpen mound.
"I was going out toward the pitcher to get a better angle to first," Rojas said of the throw.
As Riley Coomes and Jack Dennis ran home, Kuczek circled the bases and the North Stars grabbed a 5-4 lead.
After a brief meeting, the umpires called Kuczek out for stepping out of the base line and ordered Coomes and Dennis back to second and third base, respectively. Vyzral retired Nick Drawant on a groundout to work his way out of the jam.
St. Charles East (15-8, 11-6) went on to win 5-3 in the opener of the 3-game series.
While the teams combined for 18 hits, including 5 of the extra-base variety, both sides were still talking about the wacky and weird fifth-inning play well after the final out was recorded.
"The runner went right into the path of it," said Rojas. "I saw the first-base ump signal something with his hand. That's why I wasn't playing that much attention at the plate because I knew the play was dead."
"It was a very interesting play," admitted Saints coach Len Asquini. "From here, I clearly saw Adam (Rojas) a good two feet in the grass. If that ball did hit him (Kuczek), the runner had to be on the inside side of the foul line.
"They scored what appeared to be three runs on a dropped third strike," added Asquini. "Benny (Smith) said, 'it hit him, it hit him.' They (umpires) did the right thing."
North Stars coach Todd Genke had a different viewpoint.
"I'm very upset about how the call was administered," said Genke, ejected from the game after arguing the call. "If the call was a dead ball, everything should have ceased. The runner should have stopped -- the play should have stopped. That's how kids get hurt.
"But when I saw the home-plate umpire waiting for a potential play at the plate, how is he telling me it was a dead-ball call? Secondly, my runner is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds running down to first base. The catcher uncorked a bad throw over the top of a 6-4 kid. I don't understand how that call can be made at that part of the game and it completely changed the complexity of the outcome."
The Saints stormed out to a 3-0 first-inning lead on back-to-back singles from Reid Olson and Alex Abate, Brannon Barry's RBI double and run-producing groundouts from Regelbrugge and Smith.
Abate added an RBI double in the fourth that provided a 4-0 lead before the North Stars cut the deficit in half in the fifth on an RBI single by Cory Wright and Dennis' RBI double.
Freshman Zach Mettetal's 2-out double drove in courtesy runner Jake Jozefowicz to pull the North Stars within 4-3 in the sixth.
"I was proud of how they came back and responded," Genke said of his team. "We will fight to the last out."
Jake Asquini provided some insurance with an RBI single in the bottom half of the frame, and Vyzral (2 2/3 innings) worked a scoreless seventh to record the save.
"He did a wonderful job of finishing off that fifth inning and then going and closing it," Asquini said of Vyzral.
Frankie Farry (5 2/3 innings) suffered the loss for the North Stars (16-5, 10-3).
"One game doesn't make a series," said Genke. "We will certainly be ready to come back tomorrow and play very good baseball."