Baseball: Bolender sparks St. Charles N. by Wheaton N. for regional title
Luke Bolender has been a "consummate teammate" waiting for his opportunities.
It appears he's also heating up at the plate just in time for St. Charles North.
Bolender, the North Stars' senior designated hitter, hit a grand slam in his team's regional semifinal win Friday. He followed that up Monday by smashing a solo home run in the third inning to spark St. Charles North's 6-1 victory over Wheaton North in the Class 4A regional final.
"He's swinging a hot bat right now," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "He just does a great job offensively. He's kind of stuck behind some guys positionally, but he realizes that every opportunity that he gets, he's going to take advantage of it.
"We talked about this a couple days ago, how games like this and winning a regional championship: You need guys like that. And, you've got to be able to go up and down the lineup and it presents moments ... these are moments that these kids will never forget."
The North Stars (28-3) have won six regional titles in the past seven seasons. Their season continues Wednesday, as they'll host DuKane Conference foe Geneva at 4:30 p.m.
"It's not easy winning a regional titles around here, especially when you've got to go through a team [Wheaton North] for the fourth time," Genke said. "I give them a ton of credit. [Coach Dan Schoessling] does a great job with them; they're well coached."
Bolender, a Concordia University-Wisconsin commit, has been working extensively with assistant coach Brett Wikierak on "locking up my hands, getting faster to the ball and getting more to the ball."
"I feel like it's really been helping. Obviously, it's been showing," Bolender said. "I just feel like I've seen the ball way better ever since I've worked on that. It's really [about] what you've got to work on behind the scenes ... and then it shows."
Wheaton North (13-14) struck first on Ty O'Connell's run-scoring triple, but North Stars starting pitcher Eric Lee, who struck out five and allowed just 2 hits over four innings, rebounded with 3 consecutive strikeouts to end the threat.
The game remained tied after Bolender's solo shot in the bottom of the third until the North Stars offense started capitalizing off Falcons starter Tyler Whelton. Whelton hit both Alex Najera and Nick DeMarco to lead off the fifth. After a Jayden Lobliner pop out, Kevin White smoked an RBI double for a 2-1 North Stars lead.
Marco Torres then hit a 2-run single to break the game open 4-1. In the sixth, Bolender led off with a single and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Najera struck out, DeMarco was intentionally walked, and Lobliner responded with a 2-run triple for the definitive insurance runs.
White pitched 2⅓ innings of clean relief before DeMarco induced a game-ending double play to end it.
Whelton pitched five innings, surrendering 7 hits and 4 earned runs.
"I think it's [a] really good [feeling] for us," Lee said. "I think being able to extend our lead in the end gave us confidence going forward because I think if we would've kept it close, we still would've had some thoughts, maybe, about the next game [being] close. Since we got to extend the lead at the end, we have so much more momentum going into the [sectional semifinal] on Wednesday."
Schoessling spoke fondly of his team after its last game.
"Character certainly [shone through]," Schoessling said of his team. "Their commitment, kind of sticking through it throughout the pandemic. We had a lot of fun. We had a good group of young men and enjoyed being around them. These seven seniors we had are going to do good things as they move on."