That fun 1-2 punch of Justin Guryn and Jay Hoffmann that Grayslake Central's baseball team has unleashed this spring isn't new, actually.
Years before their breakout seasons this spring, which included more good things from the two juniors in the Rams' 8-5 win over visiting Grayslake North in Fox Valley Conference action Friday, Guryn and Hoffmann were travel ball teammates. Good players, mind you.
"We were a little 1-2 punch," Hoffmann said with a laugh.
Their camaraderie helps explain why Guryn wears jersey No. 98 for Grayslake Central.
"I had that number when I was on travel, when I was little," Guryn said. "I had just unstoppable seasons. Everyone would recognize me because I'd be wearing like the craziest number. I made a bet with my coach in a fall playoff game, saying if I had a 4-1 strikeout (to walk) ratio I could get (No. 98) for next year. And I did."
There's more to the story.
"I was a goofball back then," Guryn said. "I was trying to pick (No.) 99. But then the other goofball, Jay Hoffmann, took (No.) 99. I thought I had it for sure. My three options were (Nos.) 99, 98 and 97. So they went down to 98. I just stuck with it."
"I was a pitcher back then," said Hoffmann, Grayslake Central's sure-handed second baseman. "He'd be (No.) 98 and then I'd come in, (No.) 99, and shut them down."
Guryn basically shut down Grayslake North. The slender lefty (6-1, 150) pitched 6 innings, striking out six and allowing 6 hits in improving to 6-3. The 3 runs he allowed were unearned. Guryn also has 2 saves in his second varsity season.
"We didn't know what to expect (coming into the season)," Hoffmann said of his buddy. "We knew he threw hard. He's shown a lot. He's having a great year."
Guryn's baseball team is having a great year too. Grayslake Central is 19-9 and 11-5 in the conference, one game ahead of Johnsburg in the loss column in the FVC Fox. The Rams visit Grayslake North for a 10 a.m. game today, before concluding FVC play with two games next week against Woodstock North.
"It's ours to lose," Rams coach Troy Whalen said. "So this is a big win. I'm proud of the way our guys bounced back in the third and had some good at-bats."
Grayslake North (11-16, 5-9) took a 3-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a 3-run triple by sophomore Bobby Krebs, who had fallen behind in the count, 0-2. The Knights then loaded the bases with one out in the third, but Guryn got out of the jam when Hoffmann started a 4-6-3 double play.
"When we go out and get the bases loaded, and don't get anything out of it, we have to come and approach that following inning (Grayslake Central's half of the third) like, 'We got to get that,' " Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said. "That's a momentum shift."
Momentum shifted when the Knights didn't shut down their crosstown rival in the bottom of the inning. Facing tough left-hander Dom DiProva, Grayslake Central sent 11 batters to the plate and scored 6 runs. Matt Loeffl and Mike Stone reached on consecutive bunt singles, Justin Dooley successfully executed a suicide squeeze, and Kyle Clark contributed a 2-run single.
"That's just who this team is," Whalen said of his Rams' three good bunts. "We're not built to have guys get three hits in a row."
Hoffmann -- who's hitting over .400 with 25 stolen bases after starting on varsity last year -- singled and scored in the big third inning.
One oddity about the game -- besides the No. 98 on Guryn's back -- was that there were 7 hit batsmen, including three by Guryn.
Guryn said Whalen told him to pitch inside and didn't care if he hit anyone.
"As long as he doesn't hit them in the head," said Whalen, clarifying. "High school pitchers have to establish the inside part of the plate. More and more, kids are taught to stand on the plate. But a pitcher's got to own the inside part of the plate. The toughest pitch for a lefty to throw is down and in to a righty."
"I was just trying to hit my spots," Guryn said.
Grayslake North got 2 hits apiece from Krebs (double), Merrick Gentile (double) and Jason Petrillo. Stone (RBI double) and Freddie Landers were both 2-for-3 for Grayslake Central. Pat Burba doubled as well for the Rams.
"(Winning conference) is one of the goals we set this year," said Hoffmann, who backhanded a hard-hit one-hopper to rob Andrew Mikusa of a hit in the first. "We expect (to win it). We've played well. We'll just see how things go."