They say it's always darkest before the dawn.
Maybe so, but it can get quite dark right before a once-in-a-lifetime Storm hits.
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For the South Elgin baseball team, the top of the sixth inning in Monday's Class 4A Schaumburg Boomers supersectional against Evanston was darker than watching a lunar eclipse on an overcast night from a windowless room.
The Wildkits scored 4 runs on 4 hits and capitalized on 2 South Elgin errors to erase a 3-2 deficit and chase Michigan-bound right-hander Ryan Nutof, who pitched on three days rest for the first time this season.
The situation didn't look very sunny for the Storm with their ace out of the game and momentum suddenly a memory, but they refused to quietly into the night.
"We never thought it was over," No. 9 hitter Kyle Hays said after South Elgin's 7-6 comeback win. "We came back during the season down more runs than that. We knew we were going to come in and we knew we were going to hit."
What happened next was baseball magic if you're a South Elgin fan.
Nutof, still in the game as the No. 3 hitter and first baseman, led off the bottom of the sixth by doubling down the left-field line. His hit had the equivalent effect of injecting adrenaline directly into his teammates' veins, not to mention the throng of vocal South Elgin supporters in the stands.
"I had to get the team back going again because I let them down first half of the game," Nutof said. "I had to pick it up."
Just as quickly as Evanston had grabbed momentum in the top of the inning, South Elgin stole it right back. A one-out walk by Dan Asa and a single by Antonio Danesi loaded the bases, and Nutof scored on a passed ball, which ended the night for Evanston starting pitcher Dylan Mulvihil.
Another walk drawn by Justin Bryski reloaded the bases for pinch-hitting freshman Kevin Barry, who put the ball in play for a run-scoring fielder's choice.
Then Hays stepped to the plate and delivered the biggest hit of his life: a single to right field that scored Danesi with the tying run.
That cloud that had been hanging over the South Elgin dugout in the top of the sixth? Now it was hovering over the Evanston dugout. And it only got darker as Dane Toppel, South Elgin's leading hitter, stepped to the plate.
Toppel smoked his third line drive of the game into right-center field, scoring Barry with what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Tyler Brown, who relieved Nutof in the top of the sixth, coaxed a two-out groundball to Nutof at first base to strand a baserunner at first and punctuate the most important victory in the burgeoning program's eight-year history.
"It was crazy," said Brown, who improved to 5-3 with the win. "I was so pumped up on adrenaline. I was just throwing the ball like crazy. This is amazing, unbelievable. I've never felt like this before."
The win advances South Elgin (24-10) to a state semifinal against St. Rita (31-9) at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Friday at 5 p.m.
"We got hot at the right time," said Toppel, who is hitting .579 in 5 playoff games (11-for-19). "Our approaches all playoffs have been really good. The coaches got us prepared and we went out and executed."
Gaining a state bid is the product of eight seasons of work by coach Jim Kating and his right-hand man, assistant Ben Erickson, helped this season by assistants Daniel Koss and Bob Slania.
Kating, a former minor league catcher for the Dodgers and the A's, underwent major back surgery in the off-season and still walks gingerly months later. But he was all smiles and feeling no pain after his team pulled off one of the more improbable, late-inning comebacks in supersectional history in front of a crowd that included many of his former players.
"Very satisfying," Kating said of procuring South Elgin's first berth in the state finals in any sport. "What I'm really ecstatic about, too, is that I'm seeing a bunch of past players here sharing in the joy of going downstate. I've had some very good teams. The tradition and the work ethic and dedication that they set forth, now this group has taken it a step further and turned it on.
"Hopefully, we can sustain ourselves as one of the better programs in the area."