Baseball: Lambert steers St. Charles North past Lake Park
At a ballpark situated on a road with a familiar name, Johnny Lambert pitched as if he owned the place.
The St. Charles North junior did not allow a hit in 3⅓ scoreless innings of relief and the North Stars rallied to beat Lake Park 8-2 on Wednesday night at the Class 4A Glenbard West sectional semifinals.
The second-seeded North Stars (26-10) advance to Saturday's championship game against Elk Grove, which edged Glenbard West 2-1 in the other semifinal.
The game was played at Village Green, which coincidentally is on Lambert Road in Glen Ellyn.
"It was fitting that on the way here today we turned on Lambert Road and the coaches were talking about how hopefully it's going to be a Johnny Lambert night," St. Charles North coach Todd Genke said. "We were not going to hesitate at all to bring him in.
"He's been very effective. In fact he's been dominant at times."
Lambert was at his best against 11th-seeded Lake Park, which was looking to avenge three regular-season losses to the North Stars.
The game was tied 1-1 when Genke pulled starter Zach Kempe with the bases in the top of the third inning.
Lambert, a left-handed sidearmer, retired Joe Harrington on a fly to center to end that threat. He allowed just two baserunners during a 43-pitch effort.
"(The approach) was just throw strikes, honestly," Lambert said. "When you're loading bases, most of the time it's from walks.
"Our fielding is usually stellar, so I just keep it in the zone, compete in the zone. The curveball here and there was a little wild, but I had my fastball."
Lambert hit Eric Brown to lead off the fourth but a double play erased that threat. Nick Aehlert walked to start the sixth, but Lambert retired the side with a fielder's choice grounder and 2 of his 3 strikeouts.
"He's really tough on left-handers but he also pitches inside well and he locates," Genke said. "He's a competitor and it's in his blood."
Lambert, whose brother Jack helped the North Stars to third place in the state in 2016 and now plays for Western Kentucky, is tricky to read because of his sidearm delivery, a rarity among southpaws.
"Slowly, every single year I've been just naturally dropping lower and lower," Lambert said. "I just naturally do it and never really think about it."
The Lancers (19-17) thought they had the makings of a big inning in the first. Chris Worcester led off with a single and eventually scored on three wild pitches. Kempe walked John DeConcilis and hit Lake Park pitcher Masen Riser, but third baseman Kevin White fielded Nick Aehlert's bunt and started a 5-6-3 double play.
"In the first inning their pitcher may have been a little bit nervous and we took advantage by getting a run," Lake Park coach Dan Colucci said. "But the big play was their bunt defense and how they were able to cover it and turn a double play.
"(In the third) we had bases loaded and two outs and they brought in Lambert. He came in a tough spot against a tough left-hander and put up zeros, so you've got to hand it to him."
Lambert (5-0) gave a hand to St. Charles North's hitters, who produced a run in all but the first inning. The North Stars had 10 hits and 3 sacrifice flies, including one from Kempe that tied the game in the second.
White went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles, the last of which capped a 3-run sixth inning. Pat Bellock, whose third-inning RBI single put North ahead to stay, Nick DeMarco and Marco Torres all added 2 hits.
"It feels great (to be in the sectional final)," Lambert said. "I love these guys and I'm so proud of every single one of them."