GENEVA – The stage was set for a true crosstown classic, with the St. Charles East and St. Charles North baseball teams both starting a prized southpaw on a mild spring evening Monday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
It didn’t take long, though, to become evident that only the orange-clad Saints were prepared for the bright lights.
East was in full control throughout, knocking off North, 7-0, in the rivals’ series opener, played on the Kane County Cougars’ home field.
“It’s awesome that they let us come out here and play a game out here, especially against North,” East senior left fielder Joe Hoscheit said. “We try to treat every game the same but obviously this venue and this stage is just a great game to play. It’s always a blast.”
East (13-7, 11-4 Upstate Eight Conference River) led, 2-0, with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the third inning when the game’s complexion turned on an infield tap.
East senior Nick Huskisson nubbed a ball between the pitcher’s mound and first base, which North pitcher Ankur Shah tracked down, but nobody was covering first base. Shah whirled to fire home, but his throw zoomed past catcher Ryan Thomas, and the bases were cleared as Nicholas Erickson and Brian Sobieski capitalized on the errant throw, and followed Isaac Nimick home.
Huskisson, East’s starting pitcher, joked that “I’m a slow guy, so I was just worried about trucking down to first.”
“That was fun, the crowd kind of went nuts, and I turned around and saw it was chaos over there, and everyone hustling [home],” Huskisson said. “It was good.”
Just like that, it was 5-0 East – quite the early deficit for a sluggish North offense to try and overcome.
In a matchup of highly regarded left-handers, Huskisson triumphed, throwing six sparkling innings before yielding to Troy Dykhuis in the bottom of the seventh. Huskisson allowed only one hit – an infield single to Kurt Barbeau – and struck out eight while walking two and hitting two batters.
Huskisson (2-1) received much more run support than has been the norm for him this spring.
“I don’t know if we’ve scored [seven runs] for him this whole year,” East coach Len Asquini said. “Seriously. I don’t know that we have.”
North (11-10, 7-6 UEC River), which has had a rocky past week, was again left with some soul-searching to do.
“We lost all the hustle plays tonight, which really bothers me,” North coach Todd Genke said. “They hit a ball 30 feet in the infield and they scored three runs. I mean, that just can not happen, and the game is still a game at that point.
“Whether or not we’re scoring runs, that’s a whole different story, but we’ve got to make the plays in the infield that we’re not making. And it does feel when we get down two or three runs at this point like it’s seven or eight runs. Again, it’s on me. We’re not prepared. We need to be more prepared.”
East claimed a quick, 2-0 lead in the top of the first as Nicholas Erickson (sacrifice fly) and Hoscheit (RBI single) made quick inroads against Shah.
Five of the seven runs Shah (3-2) allowed were unearned in his five innings of work before the Illinois-Chicago recruit was replaced by reliever P.J. O’Brien.
The Saints’ finals runs of the night came in the fifth on an RBI triple by Brian Sobieski – he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a home run – and an RBI single by Ben Smith.
The Northwestern-bound Hoscheit had three singles on the night while Nimick added two and was hit by a pitch.
Both teams used several pinch-hitters in the seventh inning as the coaches sought to give as many players as possible a taste of playing in a professional stadium. For the Saints, the memories will be a little sweeter.
“I thought we were super,” Asquini said. “It was pretty close to a complete game for us.”
The three-game series is scheduled to continue Wednesday at East and Thursday at North.