Baseball: Lobliner's walk-off hit lifts St. Charles North over Geneva in 10
Jayden Lobliner was sitting curveball in the moments leading up to his most high-stakes swing of the afternoon.
St. Charles North's junior catcher just needed one to hit.
Lobliner, a Kansas State commit, came through in the biggest spot, his walk-off single scoring Nick DeMarco in the bottom of the 10th inning as the North Stars beat Geneva 3-2 in the Class 4A sectional semifinal on Wednesday.
DeMarco reached on a throwing error to start the winning rally, and Lobliner did the rest. DeMarco raced around third and the relay appeared to beat him on the slide, but the ball slipped through the catcher's grasp and skipped away for the heart-racing photo finish.
"I felt really confident that I was on [the curveball] first pitch and I knew [Geneva senior Aidan Sheehan] was going to go for it again," Lobliner said. "They were definitely [a] junk, off-speed pitching team and I was just sitting on that. I knew DeMarco, with great speed at second, he was going to score if I put the ball in play."
The North Stars (29-3) advance to Friday's sectional title game at top-seeded Lake Park, a winner Wednesday over St. Charles East.
Despite going 0-for-5 with 2 strikeouts at the plate, DeMarco perhaps saved his best for a masterful relief appearance pitching.
DeMarco, from his customary shortstop position, battled for five innings and allowed just 1 hit and struck out 8 to give his offense a chance. DeMarco, also the North Stars' closer, hit 94 miles-per- hour throughout the afternoon.
"Obviously, it'd be great to have me pitching with a pitch count and everything and how these next games are lined up," DeMarco said, "but we had to win this game before we had to worry about Friday, so [hopefully] should be good for Monday, once we take care of business on Friday and [I] should be back Monday."
North Stars senior Zach Kempe went five innings, struck out 9 and gave up a 2-run homer to Ethan Mayer for the initial 2-0 Vikings lead in the fifth.
"I thought Zach gave us everything he had and then Nick DeMarco is just so phenomenal," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "Really, it's really staggering. He's just a consummate hard worker that wants to beat you in everything he does. You see some guys like that every decade. He's unbelievable.
"The best part: He's such a great kid off the field, too, but he raises people's level up. He makes other guys say 'hey, we're going to step up and win this game. This is the standard, and you need to shoot above it.' "
The North Stars tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth on Ethan Kobylinski's sacrifice fly and Alex Najera's RBI single.
"I really think this game is going to help us down the road," DeMarco said. "We went down 2-0 with a home run and it could be very easy to get down in the dugout and end your season right there. I had all the faith in my team. I didn't think we were going to lose that game once we tied it back up."
Geneva starting pitcher Brian Wrenn matched the North Stars for 8⅔ innings, allowing just 5 hits and 2 runs on 117 pitches -- 76 of which went for strikes.
"It was phenomenal," Geneva coach Brad Wendell said. "I don't have anything to say. He just pitched great. And, I knew he would; that's the type of athlete he is [and] the competitor he is. He looked good the other day and I expected the same [today]. Man, did he look good."
The Vikings (15-16) lost eight consecutive games to close the regular season, but battled back to convincingly win a regional title and put the North Stars on the ropes.
"I talked to those guys [postgame] about it," Wendell said. "They never gave up. They never quit working. You should've seen our practices: These guys, seniors specifically, came to practice every day, worked hard, kept believing [and] knew if we could just get it going in the right direction, we'd be tough to beat. I think they proved that."