Justin Demand's final fastball popped leather, and moments later from beyond the fence in center field came more sounds that were pleasant to the ears of Lakes.
Snap, crackle, pop, sizzle.
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Pretty. Pretty appropriate.
Demand's 16-strikeout performance against Antioch last month was worthy of fireworks, and Friday the Lakes lefty got them. Which he earned again.
After Demand pitched No. 2 Lakes to a 1-0 win over No. 3 Antioch in the teams' Class 3A Lakes regional semifinal, a small fireworks show briefly took place.
"Perfect timing," Lakes coach Ray Gialo said. "Somebody must have been looking out for us, I guess."
"Good fans," Demand said with a smile.
Lakes (15-18) needed its ace to be good again against a good Antioch team and hard-throwing David Meade in order to advance to today's 11 a.m. regional final against top-seeded Grayslake Central (23-13), and Demand delivered. While not as dominating as when he faced Antioch on April 22, he scattered 6 hits, while striking out five and not allowing a walk
"He was on his game," said Lakes catcher Danny Jackson, whose RBI single in the first inning gave Demand (3-2) the only run he needed. "That was one of the best I've seen."
Well, since the 16-K game.
"The two times he's beaten Antioch this year he's just been on the ball," Jackson said of his pitcher. "He just pitched to contact today. Our defense was right behind him."
Meade was nearly as effective as Demand. Meade, in fact, allowed fewer hits (3) and had more strikeouts (10) than his future College of Lake County teammate.
"He brings it hard," Jackson said of Meade. "He's got a good curveball. It falls off the table."
The 6-foot-5 Demand continually made big pitches when he needed and even picked a runner off first base.
Antioch (17-15) stranded five runners in scoring position. Nick Muskat led off the top of the seventh with his third hit of the game and was bunted to second by Christian Norris, but Demand got a called-third strike and then a swinging strike three to end it.
"I really haven't thrown that much the last couple of weeks," Demand said. "Today I didn't have my best stuff. That game I had the 16 strikeouts, every pitch I felt I had my best stuff. This game I struggled the first couple of innings with my off-speed stuff and location, but toward the end I started to feel good."
"He just threw strikes," said Muskat, the Sequoits' junior third baseman, who went 3-for-3. "We tried putting the ball in play. We worked all week in practice (preparing for Demand). We knew he was going to pitch. We had our (pitching) coach, (lefty Chris) Malec, throwing curveballs to us in BP to get us ready. I felt we hit better this game than we did last time."
Gialo, who's been with Lakes' program since it started, called Demand's 16-strikeout game the best pitching performance he's ever seen from an Eagles pitcher. Lakes won that game 7-0, as Demand threw a 1-hitter.
"We talked before (Friday's) game," Gialo said. "We just said, 'Hey, nobody expects you to go out and duplicate that day. Today's a new day. One pitch at a time. One at-bat at a time.' I think he did that."
Lakes scored the game's only run when Mike Bartlett led off the bottom of the first by coaxing the first of 3 walks yielded by Meade. Ryan Burnett bunted Bartlett to second and, after a wild pitch, Jackson (2-for-3) singled home Bartlett.
The only other hits Meade allowed were leadoff singles to Nick Seketa in the fifth and Jackson in the sixth.
"David Meade has done that virtually all year. He can control a game from the mound," Antioch coach Paul Petty said. "Defensively, there were some games where we didn't support him, but today we played pretty good defense (1 error)."