DeKALB -- It took more than seven innings for the Huntley baseball team to finally wear down Dundee-Crown workhorse Ahren Ludwig in a 3-2, eight-inning victory in the Class 4A DeKalb regional final Saturday.
The left-handed Ludwig was brilliant in limiting No. 1 seed Huntley to 1 hit over 7⅓ innings, but once his pitch count exceeded 125 he began to miss high in the strike zone and subsequently walked the last two batters he faced, Brandon Altergott and Matt Sullivan.
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Ludwig (5-4) exited to a strong ovation from fans of both teams after a 135-pitch performance that included 5 walks and 9 strikeouts, and reliever Riley Alvarado came on to retire dangerous Huntley slugger Mark Skonieczny on a flyball to center for the second out.
However, cleanup hitter Tommy Kiriakopoulos stepped to the plate and poked an opposite-field single to right-center field on a 0-1 count to drive in Altergott from second base with the game-winning run.
"I was just trying to take it between the first and second-base gap, that 4½ hole, because I sort of saw the second baseman shading over," Kiriakopoulos said. "So I thought 'why not a basehit right through there?' And then he threw me a low, outside pitch, the same pitch as that (previous) one, and I knew I could do something with it. I knew it was the pitch to hit."
Seconds later, Kiriakopoulos found himself at the bottom of a celebratory dogpile near second base as the relieved Red Raiders exhaled after holding off the determined Chargers, who were bidding to upset Huntley and win the DeKalb regional title for the second straight season. D-C defeated Huntley 3-0 in 2013.
"We talked a little bit about the redemption factor from last year," Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. "These guys were hungry and they wanted it. I can't be more proud of them."
"Last year, I mean, it was a bad taste in our mouth but we wanted them this year," Kiriakopoulos said. "We didn't want anyone else to face us. We were feelin' D-C all the way."
The regional title is Huntley's fourth overall and first since 2010, when the Red Raiders finished fourth in Class 4A.
Huntley (26-7-1) advances to a McHenry sectional semifinal on Wednesday at 4 p.m. against Prairie Ridge (21-16), which defeated Grant 1-0 in nine innings to win the Grayslake North regional. Huntley swept two regular-season game from Prairie Ridge by scores of 4-3 and 8-2.
Huntley starting pitcher Adam Kalish escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third with a groundout to second base, and his teammates gave him a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning. With runners at first and second and two outs, Ludwig and the Chargers thought they had Skonieczny struck out, but the home-plate umpire judged otherwise. Skonieczny then sent a 3-2 pitch to shallow right field, scoring Johnny Nugent and Altergott.
Dundee-Crown (14-19) got on the board in the fourth. Kalish hit a batter and walked a pair to pack the bases for senior Tyler Lewan. His infield single to the shortstop hole scored Alvarado and sliced the deficit to 2-1.
The Chargers tied it 2-2 in the fifth inning when Zach Girard and catcher Brett Johnson led off with consecutive doubles, though Johnson was thrown out trying to stretch his into a triple.
"It was big to help us flip momentum," Johnson said. "I wish it would have helped a different outcome."
Meanwhile, Ludwig retired 11 straight between the third and seventh innings to give Dundee-Crown, which finished in sixth place in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division, a fighting chance to upset the outright league champs.
"I knew we were going up against a big team, and it was all about confidence," Ludwig said of his performance. "I was hitting all my spots in the bullpen and doing what I wanted to do. Then I went up there with a plan, knowing what spots I was going to hit and how I wanted to pitch. There's just nothing you can do about the umpire's calls or missed spots."
D-C had the go-ahead run on second base in the fifth, but Nick Constantino relieved Kalish and notched a strikeout to end the threat. Constantino (7-1) went on to limit D-C to 2 hits and a walk, and he struck out 4 in 3⅓ innings.
Kalish took a no-decision after holding the Chargers to 2 earned runs on 5 hits in 4⅔ innings. He walked 2 and struck out 3.
"It was a great pitcher's duel," said Jakubowski, whose program has won three regional titles in his nine seasons at Huntley. "Both teams just threw it out there on the field and people were grinding. My God, what a great high school baseball game."