Who was worried?
The South Elgin baseball players will tell you they weren't. But as they were saying that they were also still in shock, as was just about everyone who had just witnessed the Storm's improbable comeback.
Contact information ( * required )
Down 3 runs going into the bottom of the sixth inning, their senior ace knocked out of the game in the top of the inning, the Storm did what they do best -- "Storm" back.
South Elgin scored 4 runs in the bottom of the sixth then rode the right arm of senior reliever Tyler Brown in the top of the seventh to come away with a dramatic and thrilling 7-6 win over Evanston Monday night in the Class 4A supersectional at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg.
"These kids don't quit," said Jim Kating, the only head coach the program has known since the school opened in 2005. "We've been fighting back the last 2-3 weeks. The kids believe in themselves and this group has been talking about going to state since I've known them."
And go to state is what South Elgin will now do. The first team in any sport from South Elgin to qualify for an IHSA Final Four appearance, the Storm (24-10) will meet St. Rita, a 2-1 winner over Downers Grove South Monday, in the 5 p.m. state semifinal Friday at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
"We've got a lot of fight in us," said Storm junior Dane Toppel, who drove in freshman Kevin Barry with the winning run and had friends and former teammates of his dad, Corey, watching the game on High School Cube from as far away as Florida and Arizona.
"All year we've been playing to the final inning, the final out."
Early on, it looked as though South Elgin's large fan contingent would be able to start mapping out their trips to Joliet before the sun would set. With Michigan recruit Ryan Nutof on the mound and his teammates staking him to a 3-0 lead after two innings, all appeared to be lining up perfectly for the Storm.
But Evanston (23-14-1) battled back. The Wildkits, seeking their first trip to state since 1992, scored twice in the top of the fourth to cut the deficit to 3-2.
After Nutof set Evanston down in order in the fifth, the Wildkits erupted for 4 runs in the top of the sixth to take a 6-3 lead, leaving South Elgin, a No. 10 sectional seed when the postseason began, stunned.
But not for long.
Nutof led off the bottom of the inning with a double, the only extra-base hit of the game, and the rally was on.
"I felt like I let my team down and I had to get them going again," said Nutof, who struck out three, walked four and allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5⅔ innings.
With one out, junior Danny Asa drew a walk and junior Antonio Danesi singled to load the bases. Nutof scored on a passed ball to make it 6-4. With two outs, Barry singled home Asa to make it 6-5. Junior Kyle Hays followed with another single to score Danesi and tie the game and Toppel hit a 2-2 pitch from Evanston reliever James Allen into the gap in right-center to score Barry with what would become the winning run.
"He threw me a couple sliders so I knew he had to come in with a fastball," said Toppel. "I just sat back on it and got it on the outer half. We didn't give up. We knew we could put up (four) runs like that."
The rest was left to Brown (6-3), who walked two batters in the top of the seventh but got Mackenzie Oneil to ground out to Nutof at first base for the final out, sending the Storm student body rushing to the field in a sea of red.
"I was pumped up on adrenaline in that last inning," said Brown, who came on with two outs in the sixth. "I was pretty confident after we got the first out. This is unbelievable. I'm still in aweshock right now."
The Wildkits got a quality start from sophomore righty Dylan Mulvihill, who allowed 8 hits before giving way to Allen with one out in the sixth.
"We felt real good at 6-3," said Evanston coach Frank Consiglio. "That's a game we generally close out but that speaks for what (the Storm) are too. In the playoffs when you go to your No. 3 pitcher there's going to be contact. We had faith in James, but we got beat by a good player."
Toppel was 2-for-4 and reached base three times for the Storm. Nick Menken and Asa each had RBI groundouts in the first inning and Hays squeezed home senior Justin Bryski, who had reached on an infield single, stole second and went to third on Nate Brummel's bunt in the second to stake the Storm to the early 3-0 lead. Nutof added 2 hits for South Elgin.
"In the dugout you wouldn't have known we were down," Kating said. "It was very upbeat and very positive. They fight to the last out, the last pitch. That's what this group represents."
And now, they will represent South Elgin in the state finals.
South Elgin 7, evanston 6
Evanston 000 204 0 -6-8-1
South Elgin 210 004 x 7-9-3
2B: SE: Nutof
WP: Brown (6-3); LP: Allen.