Baseball: York’s seven-run eighth inning beats Lake Park in sectional semifinal

With the game heading into extra innings in the first Class 4A St. Charles North sectional semifinal Wednesday, York coach Dave Kalal knew exactly what he needed to do to get the players going.

His secret? Stay as far away from his players as he can.

“We have a roster full of athletes who know how to play at a very high level and know how to keep their cool in those situations,” Kalal said. “And they just never quit.”

And at the end of the day, the players definitely kept their cool.

The Dukes tallied seven runs in the final frame, and Ryan Sloan closed the door on the mound to secure an 8-1 victory over second-seeded Lake Park on Wednesday afternoon to advance to their third straight sectional final.

York will face top-seeded St. Charles North for a chance to head to the Class 4A Northwestern Medicine Field Supersectional on Monday.

Josh Fleming put the Dukes (29-8) ahead for the first time in the game in the eighth inning after scoring from second on a throwing error to make it 2-1.

One batter later, Noah Jones began the eventual offensive snowball after lining a two-run single to left field, making the score 4-1 with no outs still on the board.

“I felt like they were going to gas me up,” Jones said. “They weren’t throwing fastballs to me all game, so I felt like I got the pitching down and I was just locked in.”

York kept the pressure going with the use of some small-ball tactics. York had three successful bunts in the eighth inning alone, and managed to put up two runs with those plays.

“We talked about it the whole season, but in playoff time, we’ve got to put down bunts in those key situations,” Kalal said. “Lake Park we know is great at doing it year in and year out, and we kind of gave them a taste of their own medicine today.”

The Dukes tied up the game a two-out rally in the sixth inning. After Nick Allen ended up on second base after left fielder Brayden Clancy couldn’t hold on to his diving attempt in the outfield, Jones managed to line a curveball to left field to score Allen and tie the game up at 1-1.

“I was looking fastball away and trying to send the ball to the opposite field, but he hung a curveball so I just pulled it,” Jones said. “I mean it worked out in the end, but I was just looking fastball the entire at-bat.”

Lake Park (29-8) scored its only run in the game in the fourth inning after Jacob Folkes came in to score on a dropped fly ball.

The first seven innings were a pitching battle between Sloan and Lake Park lefty Lewis Slade. Slade put his curveball to work against the Dukes and kept them at bay until the sixth inning. He finished allowing seven hits and one run while striking out seven before exiting due to reaching 102 pitches.

On the other side of the mound, Sloan found his groove after giving up the unearned run. The 18th-ranked prospect in the MLB Draft according to struck out five of his eight batters in his final four innings of work, and topped out at 97 miles-per-hour during that span.

“I usually find it more deeper into the game once my offspeed gets incorporated more which definitely helped,” Sloan said. “They started to switch up their approach later in the game. At the beginning they were just swinging away, which kept my pitch count low. And then once I put my offspeed in, the count kept going to two strikes, and that’s when I really thrive.”

While the runs kept piling on for the Dukes in the eighth inning, all eyes in York’s dugout turned to Sloan, who had only thrown 72 pitches in the game to that point, which was enough to have him available to pitch in the sectional finals.

But when Kalal approached him about the matter, the Wake Forest commit said there was no way he was not finishing what he started.

“He said ‘Are you good?’ and I just said ‘Yeah, I’m not coming out,’” Sloan said. “There was no way he was taking me out of the game there.”

Sloan only needed six pitches to close out the game for the Dukes. He finished the game only allowing four hits and zero earned runs while striking out eight.

“When you’ve got a guy like Sloan out there, he’s made for these situations,” Kalal said. “It doesn’t phase him, he thrives in them. And when he gets a chance late in the game to dominate, that’s what he does.”

York players celebrate a run by Josh Fleming in extra innings during a Class 4A St. Charles North Sectional semifinal game against Lake Park on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Sandy Bressner/Shaw Local News Network
York’s Josh Fleming chases down Lake Park baserunner James Kelley during a Class 4A St. Charles North Sectional semifinal game on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Sandy Bressner/Shaw Local News Network
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