JOLIET -- The looks on the faces of South Elgin baseball players spoke volumes after Friday's 3-2 loss to St. Rita in a Class 4A semifinal at Silver Cross Field Friday night.
Pitcher Ryan Nutof and left fielder Justin Bryski wore faraway expressions during the postgame news conference as they contemplated a late lead that slipped through their fingers minutes before.
"It's real tough," Nutof said. "I mean, I didn't come here to be the third- or fourth-best team."
"I thought we had the game," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said. "The kids played hard. We gave that one away. That aspect of it I'm very disappointed with."
St. Rita (37-4) will play Catholic League Blue rival Providence (27-14) for the state title Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The Mustangs defeated the Celtics three times during the regular season.
South Elgin (24-11-1) will play for third place against Prairie Ridge (24-17), whose 5-inning rally in the top of the seventh fell just shy in an 8-7 loss to Providence in the day's first semifinal.
South Elgin took a 2-1 lead on Bryski's fourth-inning triple. Nutof made that 1-run lead stand up until the bottom of the sixth, but things began to unravel for the Storm five outs away from playing for a state championship.
With one out in the sixth, St. Rita sophomore leadoff hitter Danny Gleaves squibbed a two-hopper to shortstop and used his great speed to beat out a single. He then stole second base on a 2-1 count despite four pickoff attempts by Nutof.
No. 2 hitter Shane Peisker then hit a deep flyball to the right-center field gap. The catchable chance glanced off the South Elgin right fielder's glove as he and the center fielder nearly collided. Peisker was awarded a triple and Gleaves scampered home from second base to tie the game 2-2.
"I actually thought that he overran it, that's what I thought happened," South Elgin coach Jim Kating said of the outfield play.
Jake Shepski then hit a major league popup, but that ball was dropped for an error, leaving Mustangs at the corners with one out when Nutof should have been out of the inning.
Instead, he subsequently walked Tyler Halas to load the bases for Nick Goldsmith, who Nutof struck out in the previous confrontation between the all-staters.
Unlike in his previous at-bat when Goldsmith fell behind and went down swinging at a Nutof fastball, he drew a walk on a full count to force in Peisker with the go-ahead run and a 3-2 lead.
"To come up in that situation is pretty awesome because it's every kid's dream to come up to the plate and send your team to state," Goldsmith said of his 47th RBI of the season. "I didn't get it done by hitting it, but it felt good to draw a walk and get the run in some way anyway. That's all that matters."
The top of the Storm lineup was due in the top of the seventh inning, but they were retired in order by Austin Peay-bound pitcher Mike Costanzo (11-3). The left-hander threw a complete-game 4-hitter, allowing 2 runs, 1 earned. He struck out 11 and walked 3.
Costanzo prevailed in a pitcher's duel against Nutof (8-1), who was sharp despite pitching on three days rest for the second straight start.
"He's definitely one of the best pitcher's we've faced," Goldsmith said of Nutof. "He was mixing all his pitches up and he was throwing everything for strikes. He's a great pitcher."
Only 1 of the 3 runs the Michigan-bound right-hander allowed were earned. He limited the powerful St. Rita lineup to 3 hits, walked 3 and struck out 10 in 6 innings.
"I prepared better on three days rest than last time," Nutof said. "I felt good. I made my pitches and worked on things I needed to work on from last time. I still felt strong. I could still go right now. I felt fine. Things just didn't go the way we wanted them to."
The Storm missed opportunities to widen their lead, which proved as costly as their sixth-inning defensive gaffes. South Elgin had runners on third base with one out in the fourth and fifth innings but did not score an insurance run, and Costanzo notched a strikeout to strand runners at the corners in the sixth.
"We left too many runners on and that gave a good team a little hope," Kating said. "By us not executing and making some plays we got into a situation where we gave up 2 more runs and ended up getting beat."
St. Rita took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Nutof was called for a balk with one out and runners at the corners.
Luke Bechina then lined a ball that seemed ticketed for the gap in left center, but Bryski sprinted to his left and made an all-out diving catch, popped up and doubled off a runner at second base for an inning-ending double play.
"It was a hard-hit ball, but I got a good jump on it," Bryski said. "I knew it was either lay out for it or they'd score a run. It just felt like at state you've got to do what you've got to do."
South Elgin tied the game 1-1 in its half of third. Dane Toppel drew a one-out walk and Jared Kramer was safe on an error by the second baseman. After a double steal, Nutof grounded out to second base, scoring Toppel.
South Elgin took the lead in the fourth inning when Bryski drilled a triple to one-out triple to right center, scoring Dan Asa, who walked and stole second.