BARTLETT – Ankur Shah deserved a better fate.
Shah pitched as well as anyone rooting for the St. Charles North baseball team could have hoped for in a Class 4A Bartlett Regional semifinal Friday afternoon, but the North Stars couldn’t come up with any offense to support him in a 1-0 loss to the Hawks.
Shah (6-4) allowed only three hits, including a bunt single and an infield single.
“I’m really proud of Ankur,” North coach Todd Genke said. “I thought he threw tremendous – probably his best outing of the year, and he’s had some good ones. He certainly kept us in the game. He was throwing his changeup. He had them off balance.”
Shah used a slider to go along with the changeup to baffle Bartlett batters.
“Probably one of the best times I’ve ever pitched at St. Charles North,” Shah said. “It [stinks] to end up with a loss, but that’s baseball.”
Mike Wick hit the first pitch Shah threw in the game over the second baseman’s head for a single, but Shah did not give up another hit until the fifth inning. Unfortunately for North (17-18), that hit by Jake Barrutia led to the game’s only run.
With one out, Barrutia barely got a piece of a Shah offering, hitting a ball that went about 20 feet high and barely past the pitcher’s mound. Shah was the only North player with a chance to catch the ball.
“I should have caught that ball maybe,” Shah said. “I tripped over the rubber.”
Shah’s spill may have had something to do with what happened next. After displaying pinpoint control all game, he suddenly uncorked back-to-back wild pitches that allowed the runner to reach third. The Hawks tried to squeeze the run home, but Justin Blanchett bunted foul as hurler and hitter began an epic struggle. Shah nearly got a foul-tip strikeout, but catcher Ryan Thomas couldn’t hang on to the ball. Blanchett eventually lifted a sacrifice fly to right to score Barrutia.
“It was quite the at-bat,” Bartlett (15-14) coach Chris Pemberton said. “He’s had a number of those this season. We knew he was going to foul some pitches off. We mixed in the squeeze opportunity there and we had some confidence that he was going to make some contact, and we were fortunate he got the sacrifice fly for us.”
That effort made a winner out of Bartlett pitcher Colin Nowak (3-3). He labored at times through a 120-plus pitch-count performance, but the right-hander kept North off the scoreboard. North had four hits, including a double and single by Thomas, and left the bases loaded in the second.
“We had chances to win,” Genke said. “We had multiple baserunners. We had guys in scoring position. All season we were just unable to get that big hit when we needed it.”
Nowak struck out five and walked two, but the North Stars frequently took him deep into counts, especially in the early innings.
In contrast, Shah threw less than 80 pitches over six innings, striking out six and walking none.
“The kid was good,” Shah said of his mound opponent, “but I thought I outpitched him. You know, sometimes, luck of the ball.”