LOVES PARK -- Jacobs hitters had been on a tear throughout the playoffs, but St. Charles East pitcher Matt Starai overmatched them in a 7-2 victory at the Class 4A supersectional at Aviators Stadium Monday evening.
Starai (10-1) limited the Golden Eagles to 3 hits and St. Charles East capitalized on 3 Jacobs errors to qualify for the state finals for the fourth time in program history and the first time since 2004.
"I felt pretty good. I tried not to do too much," Starai said. "I just wanted to pitch my game and let it happen as it is. I know if I go out and do my best, I'll give my team a chance to win and that's all I really wanted to do."
Starai allowed 1 earned run, walked 1 and struck out 6 in a tidy 80-pitch outing.
"I've been doing this for 18 years and I've seen a lot of great pitchers," Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said. "(Starai) may be the best pitcher I've seen as far as the stuff. Obviously, he's got a plus fastball, but his secondary stuff kept us off balance."
St. Charles East (27-11) drew first blood in the top of the second inning against Jacobs starting pitcher Reilly Peltier (4-1). First baseman Brain Sobieski led off with a walk and scored on Anthony Sciarrino's two-out single to center field.
"Coach (Len) Asquini gave us a stat that (Jacobs) scored in the first inning of their last 4 games, so we knew a good start in the first or second inning would really give us a lot of confidence," said Sciarrino, who went 1-for-2 with 2 RBI. "That was huge. Luckily, I got something I could handle and take over the second baseman's head, which was our game plan. I got jammed on it but still waited back and got enough."
Jacobs (25-12) answered immediately with 2 runs in its half of the second. Grant Kale led off with a double and later scored from third base on a Baltimore chop single over down the third-base line by Nick Ledinsky. An error at third base, the Saints' second of the inning, helped Jacobs grab a 2-1 lead. It would be short lived.
St. Charles East answered with 3 runs in the top of the third. Nick Huskisson and Brannon Barry singled ahead of Jack Dellostritto, who lined a two-out single to left field to tie the game 2-2.
Sciarrino subsequently sent a lazy flyball to left-center field for what should have been the third out, but the ball was dropped by the normally sure-handed Ledinsky. Two runs scored to give the Saints a 4-2 lead.
"It was just tough to see," Ledinsky said. "It was a little bit dark and I hadn't gotten used to the lights yet. It was the first ball I saw and I just had a hard time reading it."
The Saints kept the heat on the Golden Eagles in the fourth inning. With Nicholas Erickson on third base with one out due to Jacobs' third error, Joe Hoscheit hit a pop fly to shallow right field. Kale fielded the ball while taking a step backward, so Asquini gambled and sent Erickson. He scored on an acrobatic slide as the ball short-hopped Jacobs catcher Greg Sidor.
"Once I saw (Kale) still backing up, I'm moving him," Asquini said of the runner. "It worked this time. The next time it might not work so good and everybody's calling me stupid."
St. Charles East added a pair of runs in the top of the fifth. Sciarrino sent a sacrifice fly to right field to score Sobieski. The throw home skipped past the catcher for a throwing error and Barry scampered home from second to the delight of the St. Charles East faithful, who began to sense a state berth.
Starai did the rest. He kept the Golden Eagles scoreless for the final 5 innings, retiring 15 of the final 17 hitters he faced. He induced a groundball to second base to clinch the supersectional title.
The Saints are in the state finals for the third time under Asquini, who returned to coach the program last season. He led St. Charles High School to a state title in 1999 and directed St. Charles East to a Class AA berth in 2002.
"It's a wonderful experience for the kids and that's what it's about, these guys," Asquini said. "They get to play in that venue again. Very, very happy for them and proud of them. Let's see what happens."
The Saints celebrated at midfield once the final out was made.
"This is the best possible thing I could have every imagined," Sciarrino said. "We were all on the same travel team since seventh grade and we always said we were going to do it. Everyone says it, but to actually do it and get to state, there's nothing like it. This is the happiest moment of my life."
The defeat ended the greatest season in Jacobs history. The Golden Eagles broke the school record for victories by 6 wins and won the first regional and sectional titles in program history.
"This class is leaving a great legacy," Murray said. "I'm proud of our kids. I'll miss the seniors. It's been an honor to be their head coach. The juniors and sophomores have a lot to catch up to and have some big shoes to fill. I'm going to miss these boys. It's been a great journey. I'm sad to see it come to an end."
Follow Jerry on Twitter: @jerfitzpatrick