Baseball: St. Charles North clinches outright DuKane title
The St. Charles North baseball team wanted the inaugural DuKane Conference title solo.
The North Stars had already clinched a share of first place in the new league heading into Wednesday's finale at Batavia. They claimed the outright title with an 8-5 win.
"Hopefully, it's the first of many," said Michael Gattuso, whose 3-run triple keyed a 4-run second inning. " It's nice to set the tone, show that we're a quality program and it's going to be tough to beat us in the future."
St. Charles North (22-9, 17-4) finished a game ahead of Wheaton North (21-9, 16-5). Batavia (18-12, 12-9) placed third.
"We wanted to be selfish and come over here and take care of it for ourselves," St. Charles North coach Todd Genke said. "I'm glad it worked out that way."
The conference championship is the first for the North Stars since consecutive Upstate Eight Conference titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
It is the eighth conference title since the program was established in 2001-02. All have come on the watch of Genke, a 1993 Philadelphia Phillies draft pick who took over the program in 2004-05.
Hitting heroes were everywhere for North: Egon Hein counted a double among 3 hits; Ryan Thiesse finished 2-for-3, walked, tripled, drove in a pair and scored 3 runs; Kevin White knocked in 2 and made some tough plays at third base.
St. Charles North pitchers John Hamer and Johnny Lambert teamed for the win. Hamer held the Bulldogs to 5 runs (4 earned) on 8 hits and a walk in 5 innings to improve to 5-1.
Lambert extinguished a sixth-inning fire to earn his first save. The junior left-hander entered with two runners aboard but maintained the lead. Pinch hitter Brad Niedzwiedz's sacrifice fly drew Batavia within 6-5, but Lambert notched a strikeout looking to end the inning with the potential tying run on third. He entered the game with a plan.
"Just relax, pound the zone and pitch to contact because I know my defense is going to have my back no matter what," Lambert said.
Losing pitcher Dylan Schick allowed 6 earned runs on 6 hits in 3 innings. He struck out 3 and walked a pair.
Reliever Drew Iutzwig kept the Bulldogs in the game by tossing 3 scoreless innings. Batavia trimmed what had been a 6-2 deficit to 6-5 but never hit anything to rival Gattuso's 3-run triple.
"They hit the ball a little better than us and put the ball in play when they needed to," Batavia coach Alex Beckmann said. "We were just one hit shy. I'm proud of our effort staying there after going down 4-0 in the second inning."
The North Stars added 2 seventh-inning insurance runs. Thiesse and White came through with two-out RBI singles.
"That's just a backbreaker," Genke said. "You could see the air kind of go out of them there."
Lambert induced a pop fly to end the game with a Batavia runner on first base and the North Stars rushed the mound to celebrate their DuKane Conference title.
"It means so much," Gattuso said. "Everybody here, we work hard every day, fall and winter. We're all just working hard. It feels nice to finally have validation."