Baseball: St. Charles North dumps Geneva to make it 13 straight wins
Zach Kempe feels he's not matching his own, admittedly high, expectations on the mound quite yet.
Kempe, a St. Charles North senior pitcher and Notre Dame recruit, still thinks he can do a lot better, even after striking out nine Geneva Vikings in a 6-2 victory on Monday.
With the win, the North Stars (13-0, 7-0 DuKane Conference) continued the best start in program history.
"I definitely don't think I'm at my best right now," Kempe said after allowing 4 hits and 4 walks over 5⅓ innings. "I definitely have high expectations for myself, and right now, I don't think I'm playing at my expectations."
As a sophomore, Kempe emerged as the North Stars' top starting pitcher in their 2019 postseason run to second place at the Class 4A state tournament. Kempe features a fastball that typically sits in the upper 80 miles-per-hour range with some visits into the 90s.
"I think I could do a lot better," said Kempe, who improved to 3-0 on the season with his win Monday. "I just have to keep working every week, and just try to get back to my sophomore year self where I was dominating."
Hitting his spots behind the plate is top of mind for Kempe moving forward.
"Right now, the ball is just not going where I really want to," Kempe said. "It could be because maybe it's because I haven't practiced enough; maybe I just need to start getting on the mound more and more because I think this is only, I think my fourth start on the year."
"So, I think I just got to settle in on the mound and just keep getting those reps in and keep trying to perfect my mechanics this year."
Kempe began the bottom of the first with a leadoff walk, a groundout and a hit batter. A wild pitch brought in Ethan Mayer for a 1-0 Geneva lead.
"It's still early [in the season]. We extended him today just because he hadn't pitched now in seven days ... we got to extend [Kempe] a little bit," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "First inning, he was kind of all over the place and then he settled in. The breaking ball was throwing for a strike and when he's got both [breaking ball and fastball] working, he's tough to hit."
The North Stars answered in the second inning with a one-out double by Jayden Lobliner. Nathan Suksengdow courtesy ran and was later brought home when Marco Torres reached on an error.
After a fly out, Ethan Kobylinski walked and stole second. The throw by Geneva catcher Joey Maynard sprinkled into the outfield, which allowed Torres to score for a 2-1 North Stars lead.
In the third, Geneva (7-5, 5-2) loaded the bases with two outs. Another wild pitch allowed Mayer to score from third and tied it 2-2, but a popout ended the threat. Geneva also had ideal opportunities with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings, but was unable to get the timely hit.
Kobylinski and Jimenez RBI singles in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, allowed the North Stars to regain the lead at 4-2.
They later added two more in the seventh after another attempt from Maynard to throw out a baserunner at second base skipped into the outfield and an error during the next at-bat brought in Jimenez, who earlier walked.
Vikings starting pitcher Brian Wrenn battled through 6 innings, surrendering 5 hits and striking out 2. Nick DeMarco earned the save for the North Stars with 3 strikeouts and a walk.
"We just got to be cleaner. Brian did a great job keeping us in the game," Geneva coach Brad Wendell said. "Wish we could've been a little cleaner in the infield for him and take care of the baseball a little more in key situations."
"You got to give credit to [the North Stars]," Wendell continued. "Everyone knows they're good. I think we battled them, though. I think we had good at-bats. We battled them tough; but we need timely hitting and we didn't get it today."