St. Charles North entered Saturday's home Class 4A regional championship game against Glenbard North fixated on hanging a number on the board -- in reference to the school's three previous regional championship nameplates on display behind home plate.
Best friends and battery mates Cory Wright and Kyle Khoury did the heavy lifting and worked overtime to ensure that became a reality for the North Stars.
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Wright, the junior left-hander committed to Kansas State, scattered eight singles and allowed one run throughout an impressive 9-inning, 106-pitch outing in the 90-degree heat.
Khoury, who collected four of the North Stars' six hits on the day, launched a towering solo home run to left in the fifth to knot the score at 1-1, then doubled inside the third base bag to open the bottom of the ninth.
After Khoury advanced to third on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Anthony Lambert, Riley Coomes lofted a sacrifice fly to right to plate Khoury and give the No. 3 seeded North Stars a heart-stopping 2-1, 9-inning victory over the No. 6 seed Panthers.
St. Charles North (23-11) earned its first regional title since 2010 and advanced to face South Elgin (22-10) in Thursday's Schaumburg sectional semifinal.
"It's big time," Wright said. "We haven't won this in four years and coach always talks about hanging numbers and now we'll have 2014 hanging up there."
"It's a good feeling and we're hoping to add another one," Khoury added.
"These kids really believe. They're a tight knit team with a lot of chemistry and that can go a long way," said North Stars coach Todd Genke.
"It was two good pitchers on the mound and it came down to a little bit of execution obviously," said Panthers coach Rich Smelko. "They just made one more play than we did at the end of the game."
After threatening with a pair of two-out hits in the second inning, Glenbard North (20-15) broke through in the third.
Sam Ledbetter and Nolan Jasinski opened the frame with singles and Eric Orze sacrificed both runners up. Matt Albin laced a sacrifice fly to left plating Ledbetter, but Wright averted further damage by getting Alex Burnett to fly out.
"The first run of the game definitely helped, but it would have been nice to tack on another one or two to put a little more pressure on those guys," Smelko said.
On the mound, Orze matched Wright pitch for pitch, allowing just four hits over 6-plus innings. The junior righty faced one batter over the minimum through four before Khoury's leadoff home run in the fifth.
"I was doing my best to keep the ball down and let my defense work," Orze said. "On the home run, I came back with a second cutter and he saw it out of my hand. I just left that ball up a little bit, so give credit to him, he hit the ball hard all day off me."
"Me and Kyle and I are best friends so that home run was a solid moment," Wright said. "We have a little connection going from pitcher to home and then he tied it for us at the plate."
In the bottom of the sixth, the North Stars attempted to score the lead run from third on a wild pitch, but Panthers catcher Collin MacGaffey retrieved the ball to his left and delivered a perfect throw to Orze for the third out.
Chris Murray led off the Panthers seventh with a single. However, they failed to execute a third strike bunt attempt and Wright followed by picking off his second runner of the game to end the threat.
"Picking guys off is a big part of my game. I work on that a lot so when it happens it pumps us up," Wright said.
After fanning just three batters through seven innings, Wright reached back to strike out the side in the eighth and induced three ground outs in the ninth.
"The last couple of innings were a little rough with all the pressure on you. You just have to step up to the occasion and we all did that so it was fun." Wright said.
"Cory's a warrior. There's no quit in him," Genke said.
Glenbard North's Luke Greenberg also picked off a runner to help thwart a rally in the eighth, but suffered the tough-luck loss despite 2 2-3 innings of solid relief work.