DeKALB -- If stars were placed next to the names of the Huntley fielders who made great plays in Wednesday's 4-0 playoff win over Larkin, the score book would have looked like a chart of the galaxy by game's end.
Huntley defenders made the routine plays, the smart plays and the stellar plays in support of senior right-hander Eric Luecht (7-2). He limited the fourth-seeded Royals (15-20) to 3 hits and 4 walks and struck out 5 in an 85-pitch performance to outduel Larkin senior Jack McCracken (7-3).
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"We threw the leather and Eric did a nice job of pounding the strike zone," Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. "Everything we preach, we did it on the defensive end."
No. 1 Huntley (25-7-1) advances to the regional final against the winner of today's semifinal between No. 2 Dundee-Crown and No. 3 DeKalb on Saturday at 10 a.m.
The Huntley universe was littered with defensive stars against the Royals:
• First baseman Tommy Kiriakopoulos ended Larkin's second inning by smothering a Jonathan Avila groundball with a runner at second base. He also saved a third-inning error by scooping a low throw.
• Right fielder Trevor Symbal made a sliding catch with a runner on second to end the third inning.
• Third baseman Jon Nugent made three tough plays on balls he had to charge before throwing off-balance to first.
• Left fielder Dillon Dell'Aquila laid out for a diving catch to rob McCracken to open the seventh inning.
• And Huntley catcher Mark Skonieczny picked off two baserunners. He nabbed a runner at first base in the first inning on a disputed call. In the fifth inning he negated a Larkin scoring opportunity by picking off a runner who led off with a double, keeping the game scoreless at the time.
"Mark will sense it three pitches before he does it," Luecht said of the pickoff play."
"I saw he got a large lead off second base the pitch before that, so I signaled to (shortstop Matt) Sullivan," said Skonieczny, a future catcher for the Fighting Illini. "We usually have a little hand shake or a touch of the mask. He was off the base again, far. So I did my best to throw it down in the right spot and luckily we got an out there."
Larkin's defense blinked in the bottom of the fifth inning when 2 errors at shortstop sandwiched a walk drawn by Nugent in the nine hole.
That set the stage for Chicago State-bound senior Matt Sullivan, who entered the contest leading Huntley with a .444 batting average. Throughout the game McCracken had started Huntley's hitters with off-speed pitches to great effect, but Sullivan guessed right on the first pitch of his third at-bat and inside-outed a 3-run triple to the right-field corner.
"I got two change-ups on the first pitch of my first two at-bats, so I figured in my third at-bat he wasn't going to throw it to me because I was on the first one," Sullivan said. "I figured he's not going to throw a fastball, so he'd probably throw a curveball. I got it and I went with it."
Skonieczny followed with a sacrifice fly to right field for his area-best 32nd RBI, scoring Sullivan with his area-best 40th run.
It was a hard-luck defeat for McCracken, who lost to the Red Raiders in a regional semifinal for the second year in a row, though he did not allow an earned run. The right-hander held Huntley to 4 hits and a walk in 6 innings and struck out 5.
"A couple of bad hops in that (fifth) inning or we're right there," McCracken said. 'We outhit them, but they got a couple of bad hops and had one good, timely hit and that was the difference."
The loss meant the end of high school baseball for six Larkin seniors: McCracken, pitcher/first baseman Brayden Royse, left fielder Rob Bond, infielder Cam Powers, center fielder Tyler Kalusa and catcher John Jowaski.
"I've never been complimented more on a team I've coached, whether it's fans or other coaches saying they play the right way," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "These six seniors were a huge part of that and their leadership will definitely missed."