Baseball: Clutch hitting sends York past St. Charles East in regional title game

York’s baseball team was at its best in two-out situations Saturday.

The third-seeded Dukes (28-9) turned an early 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 first-inning lead on Josh Fleming’s solo home run and Drew Gami’s 2-run single.

They then added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth on junior catcher Owen Chael’s 2-run home run during their 6-4 victory over No. 8 St. Charles East in the Class 4A regional championship in Elmhurst.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight Wednesday with Wheaton North (a 2-1 win),” said York coach Dave Kalal, “and we knew it was going to be another dogfight today with St. Charles East. Thankfully, we were able to score all six of our runs after two outs.”

The Dukes capitalized on a few extra chances at the plate, as an infield error allowed Gami to step into the batter’s box in the first inning, and Fleming’s sky-high infield popup went for a single after being lost in the sun, giving Chael an at-bat in the fifth.

“I always go up to the plate thinking the first pitch is going to be a fastball, so I was sitting fastball and I just wanted to poke something up the middle,” Chael said of attacking the first pitch for his third home run of the season.

“It was left down the middle, and I took advantage of it and hit it down the (left-field) line. It got some elevation and went over (the fence).”

The Saints (14-14), who scored 2 runs in the top of the first on James Feigelson’s RBI single and an infield throwing error, pulled within a run at 4-3 on an RBI single by Antonio Perez in the fourth.

In the fifth, the Saints chased York southpaw starting pitcher Noah Hughes (4 2/3 IP, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts) after loading the bases with two outs on singles by Sam Frausto and Mac Paul, sandwiched around a walk to Joey Arend.

Fleming saved the tying run from scoring with his diving stop of Paul’s infield single at shortstop before senior right-handed reliever Chris Danko escaped the jam with a strikeout.

“I was definitely excited — I knew the adrenaline was pumping,” said Danko, who allowed 1 hit and a walk with 3 strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings while recording the save.

“I did the same thing in the Wheaton North game the other day, coming in with two outs, so it was something I had done before. I thought I was ready going into that situation.”

Danko’s job became a little easier following Chael’s fifth-inning long ball.

“I was the first one out there when Owen hit the home run,” said Danko. “I was like, ‘man, you just took so much off my shoulders.’”

York advances to Wednesday’s 5 p.m. St. Charles North sectional semifinal clash with No. 2 Lake Park (28-8).

“Everybody has contributed to the success of the team this year,” said Kalal. “Our core group of guys — Danko, (Ryan) Sloan, Fleming, Hughes — they’ve won three regional titles in a row, something that has never been done in the history of our school. We’re happy to be moving on.”

The Saints graduate 9 seniors, including Frausto, Paul, Jack Bennett, Jake Greenspan, Devin Minarik, Cole Ridgway, Cal Sitarz, Andrew Smerz, and Carson Stephens.

“I’ve always preached to them about staying level-headed, and the team didn’t quit,” said Saints first-year coach Derek Sutor. “This year was fun. There was a ton of stuff that I took in and I look forward to building upon.

“The history of this program is not rebuilding but reloading. There’s a bunch of talent coming up. The future is extremely bright.”

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