Baseball: Hughes, York savor a ‘fun ride’ to fourth place in Class 4A for second straight season

When Noah Hughes was called up to throw one playoff game in relief for York two years ago as a skinny sophomore left-hander, little did he know the ride he was about to embark on.

In not just one sport, but two.

The ride for Hughes and York’s eight other seniors ended Saturday, a 6-1 loss to Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game at Joliet’s Duly Health and Care Field.

But what a journey.

York (31-11), making its second consecutive state appearance for the first time in program history, finished fourth in Class 4A for the second straight season.

Hughes, himself, has collected quite a bit of state hardware the last two years.

A right winger in hockey, he played on York’s JV team that won the state championship as a junior. This season, Hughes and the York varsity team lost to New Trier in the state championship game.

“It’s been ridiculous,” Hughes said. “This year the varsity [hockey] team took second place, last year reached the Final Four. It’s just hard to believe the success that we’ve had. I can’t imagine a better experience.”

Hughes, although not possessing the notoriety of fellow senior pitcher Ryan Sloan, a potential first-round MLB Draft pick, has been a huge part of York’s baseball success.

He threw six shutout innings in York’s sectional final win over St. Charles North, and took the mound Saturday with an 8-1 record and 1.32 ERA on the season.

Starting the third-place game for the second consecutive year, Hughes threw three innings, allowing two runs on four hits with two strikeouts.

“It’s awesome to be able to do it,” Hughes said. “A little nerve-racking, but you have to be able to handle the nerves.”

Hughes has shown himself to possess nerves of steel in big spots. In last year’s sectional final, he closed out a stunning 2-0 upset of top-seeded St. Charles East with an inning of relief in a game Sloan started. This year he emerged as part of a big three with Sloan and Illinois State recruit Chris Danko on a York pitching staff that allowed just 12 runs over six playoff games leading up to Saturday.

“I definitely am throwing a lot harder than I was at that time, as a sophomore,” Hughes said. “I throw four pitches now. I was a two-pitch pitcher sophomore year. My location is better. I’m just a better pitcher.”

Hughes, who plans to attend the University of Iowa and study finance — but won’t play either sport — has enjoyed both very different athletic experiences. All of 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, he’s a hockey player not afraid to lay the hit on people. In baseball, he prevents hits.

“They’re very different, but I love them both and had fun playing both,” Hughes said. “Obviously hockey is a much more fast-paced and baseball is much slower. It makes for an interesting switch.”

York, which lost Friday’s semifinal to Conant 1-0, had its best scoring chance Saturday in the fifth. The first three Dukes walked in the inning, and Danko lined a single to right to score Hughes. But the next batter popped up, and Josh Fleming lined into an inning-ending double play.

Two-time defending champion Edwardsville, which beat York in last year’s semifinal, padded its lead with three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth.

York managed just four hits, two by Danko.

“It wasn’t our day yesterday, it wasn’t our day today, but it was a fun ride for sure,” Danko said. “I feel like we left our mark.”

Indeed they have, as 15th-year York coach Dave Kalal echoed. Two years ago, the Dukes entered the playoffs as a 13-16 No. 10 seed and came a pitch away from making state, losing an 11-inning heartbreaker to McHenry.

“That could have been three straight years — that game still sits in my craw, I’ll never get over it,” Kalal said. “But it’s been just an unbelievable run. We went into the playoffs last year 20-15 as a sixth seed and made state.

“Some coaches go through their whole careers trying to do it one time. To do it in consecutive years, and to be in the Elite Eight three straight years, has been phenomenal.”

As Kalal noted, he’s been blessed with talent and “blessed with dudes,” especially on the mound.

Sloan, the biggest and baddest of those dudes, has the draft to look forward to next month, but on Saturday looked back fondly on his last high school season.

“We had a good group of guys, and the chemistry came together at the end like it usually does,” Sloan said. “I think at the beginning of the season we thought we could make it this far. The last two days weren’t ours, but that’s baseball.”

  York’s Paul Reedy takes the throw at third base as Edwardsville's Logan Porter slides into the bag with a steal during the Class 4A state baseball third-place game at Duly Health and Care Field on Saturday, June 8, 2024 in Joliet. Joe Lewnard/
  York pitcher Noah Hughes throws against Edwardsville during the Class 4A state baseball third-place game at Duly Health and Care Field on Saturday, June 8, 2024 in Joliet. Joe Lewnard/
  York catcher Noah Jones tags out Edwardsville's Lucas Krebs, who was trying to score on what would have been an inside-the park home run during the bottom of the third inning of the Class 4A state baseball third-place game at Duly Health and Care Field on Saturday, June 8, 2024 in Joliet. Joe Lewnard/
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