Baseball: Stevenson's 5-run first too much for Libertyville to overcome
Stevenson's Michael Belbot has been the closer for the Patriots this season.
On Wednesday, the senior made his first start of the season as Stevenson flipped their script and shook off Libertyville 8-3 in the semifinals of the Mundelein Class 4A sectional.
Stevenson (29-9) will play Saturday in the sectional final at 11 a.m. The Patriots will meet the winner of Thursday's sectional semifinal between Hersey and Barrington.
Belbot said it was a nice change to start.
"It was different, that's for sure," said Belbot, who threw three innings and allowed just one hit while striking out four.
"The plan was to ride me out as long as possible."
Stevenson coach Nick Skala, who has been using pitching by committee all season long, said that he wanted to shake things up by using his closer first.
"He doesn't start," Skala said. "He is the back end guy for us. We wanted to go with him as an opener to just try to get off on a great note. He did exactly what we wanted. We only had him slotted for two innings and he talked me into a third one."
The game was the rubber match between the two clubs who not only split their two regular season conference games, but shared the North Suburban title.
"The first inning was great for us," Skala said. "This is the third time we played them and they are a great team. We are lucky to come out on top twice."
After Belbot pitched a scoreless first, Stevenson went to work to give their first-time starter all the offensive help he would need.
The Patriots took advantage of an outfield error and two walks to load the bases. Chris Iannuzzi was hit by a pitch, scoring Colin Schmitke. Frank Conasbile's fielder's choice drove in Brandon Schulz.
JR Nelson followed with a double down the left-field line to score Joe Richardson. But when the ball bounced over the wall, it appeared Libertyville had caught a break. Luca Morelli ended that thought quickly with a two-run single and suddenly it was 5-0.
"As soon as we have a lead it takes a lot of relief on my part," Belbot said. "I could pitch to contact and get some outs."
But even after Belbot left the mound in the fourth, he was still helping himself and his team. He belted his sixth homer of the year, a solo shot to left center, to make it 6-0.
The Patriots added runs in the next two innings to make it 8-0.
Nelson, who had three hits on the day, had an RBI single to score Iannuzzi. Matthew Bressler would double in the sixth to score pinch runner Joey Frankel.
"I wanted to get a win with my boys," Nelson said. "That's all we wanted to do. It seems like every day different guys are stepping up and getting that big hit to get the dugout fired up."
Libertyville (21-14), which was without starting pitcher Michael Scarpelli, refused to go away quietly.
The Wildcats pushed across three runs thanks to an error, a bases-loaded hit batter to Benjamin Hutchings and a bases-loaded walk to Josh Holst. They had the tying run in the on-deck circle, but Andrew Maloney got a ground out to end the threat.
Libertyville coach Matt Thompson said that first inning by Stevenson really hurt his squad.
"It's tough to spot a good team five runs right off the bat," Thompson said. "Take that away and we got a ballgame. This team battled all the way to the end. We had a sign of life at the end. But it was a great season. We weren't expected to do this. We shared the conference title and won a regional. I am real proud of them."