It was a restless night for Michael Metz leading up to his start against Libertyville on Wednesday afternoon.
The Mundelein pitcher was tossing and turning in the wee hours Wednesday morning, and was up way past his normal bedtime. He couldn't get the image of Tuesday's loss to Libertyville out of his head.
Mundelein and Libertyville, two of the top teams nearly every year in the competitive North Suburban Conference Lake Division met up for their two-game season series on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I was up past 1 a.m. thinking about my start today," Metz said. "I wanted to make sure I really attacked those guys after we lost to them on Tuesday."
Looking anything but sleep-deprived, Metz set the tone early and pitched six full innings for the visiting Mustangs in a pivotal 8-6 victory that keeps Mundelein (23-2, 6-2 Lake) within striking distance of Libertyville (19-4, 7-1 Lake) for first place in the Lake Division.
"We don't talk a whole lot about championships, but we do talk about doing things the right way and playing with a certain amount of energy and purpose," said Mundelein coach Todd Parola, whose team dropped a home game to Libertyville on Tuesday, 3-1. "I was a little worried about how we would come back today after Tuesday. I wasn't sure what was going to happen. But I think we did play with energy and a purpose today."
Especially early on.
But what started as a blowout for the Mustangs ended as a real nailbiter.
Mundelein got out quick on Libertyville starter Andrew Mack (4-1) and put up 7 runs over the first two innings. The Mustangs were up 8-1 through four innings. But Libertyville rolled up five runs over the final three innings, including a home run with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, to make things interesting.
The Wildcats got six of their nine total hits over those last three innings.
"I'm very happy that our guys showed a lot of emotion in coming back. It was a great team effort and guys were picking up guys who didn't have their best games," said Libertyville catcher Evan Skoug, who drove in a run in the first inning with a double and had a 2-run home run taken away in the third inning on a controversial call. "But if we had played all game like we did in the last few innings, we would have really done some serious damage."
Skoug tried to get the Wildcats going earlier, and he thought he had succeeded.
In a strange and rare occurrence, Skoug hit a home run off a Metz pitch that was ruled a balk by the umpire just seconds before Skoug teed off.
"I guess it wasn't meant to be," Skoug said of the non-homer. "I'm not really happy about it because looking back at it, that's 2 runs and it's a tie ball game and I think we would have gone on to win this game.
"I've never had that happen to me. It's hard and it was a momentum-buster. You never know what would have happened after that (if the balk had never been called)."
Also strange was the fact that Metz (3-1) got called for 4 balks, and he had never been called once for a balk in any of the Mustangs' previous games.
"I guess (the umpire) doesn't like me," Metz said with a chuckle. "No, I don't know. I'm not sure what was wrong. You just have to have that pitcher's mentality all the way through. You can't let anything get to you."
Mundelein, which built its early lead off of big hits by Luke Peterson, Ryan Hollander and Luke Adams, took the same approach as Libertyville made its comeback.
The Mustangs tried to stay cool.
Libertyville scored 4 runs in the fifth, thanks in large part to a single by Mitch Townsend that drove in 2 runs. And Jimmy Govern provided some short-lived fireworks in the seventh with a home run to lead off the inning. That got Metz pulled.
"I'm not going to lie, it was a little nerve-wracking seeing them come back," Peterson, Mundelein's third baseman, said of Libertyville. "But I knew that our pitchers were going to do the job and we were going to get the 'W.' I was confident in that the whole time."
Relievers Tyler Kozaritz and Carter Naughton then teamed up to close out the seventh inning for the Mustangs without any further damage.
"The resiliency our kids showed was really good. They stayed together," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. "We just can't spot a team that is really good 7 runs. If they had spotted us 7 runs, the outcome is different."