GENEVA – Geneva might have had home-field advantage, but that hardly was a daunting prospect for the St Charles East baseball team.
The Saints continue to make themselves at home in Geneva on Saturdays in late May, winning their third regional championship game against the Vikings on Geneva's home field during the past four years, and their fourth straight regional overall.
This time, it was a 5-2 Saints win, advancing East to a home 4A sectional semifinal Wednesday against Lake Park.
"We like this place to win regional titles," East coach Len Asquini said. "We like our place, too. Now we get to go home for a sectional, and that was obviously a big goal for us, to play at least one of those games on our field for the sectional. We're happy for that and excited about it."
The sixth-seeded Vikings scored in the top of the first for 1-0 lead when Bobby Hess scored on a dropped third strike before eventually scoring on an errant East throw.
But the fourth-seeded Saints took the lead for good in the bottom of the first, scoring three runs against Geneva starter Tony Landi (5-2).
"We're not real happy about how they scored their first run, but that happens," Asquini said. "It didn't rattle us, we got the outs after that, and then the really great thing was offensively we came back and put the three runs on the board right away."
A Brian Sobieski sacrifice fly and a Brannon Barry RBI single accounted for the final two runs in East's three-run inning.
The Saints tacked on single runs in the third and fifth innings, with Barry in the middle of both instances.
In the third, with the bases loaded, Barry attempted to squeeze bunt Joe Hoscheit home, but did not make contact. The ball scooted past Geneva catcher Nate Montgomery to score Hoscheit, with Geneva coach Matt Hahn arguing that it should have been a foul tip.
With East (24-11) leading, 4-1, in the bottom of the fifth, the Vikings intentionally walked Sobieski for the second time, loading the bases with one out. Newly inserted Geneva pitcher Max Novak walked Barry to force home the Saints' fifth run before keeping East off the board the rest of the game.
The Vikings had a couple decent scoring chances against East left-hander Nick Huskisson in the middle innings but were unable to muster a needed, two-out hit.
"The curveball was working pretty well for me in some key counts," Huskisson said. "I was able to throw it over, and luckily they struggled with it a little bit today."
Huskisson (6-1) pitched five innings of one-run ball before giving way to Troy Dykhuis, who allowed an RBI single to Bobby Hess in the seventh inning but shut the door with consecutive outs to end the game.
In addition to his solid pitching outing, Huskisson was productive offensively, laying down a sacrifice bunt and adding a single and double. Huskisson said he didn't expect to bat cleanup this year after a modest offensive history.
"Going in, no," Huskisson said. "I hit 5 sometimes last year and I didn't even get to hit a whole lot when I [was pitching]. Luckily coach had enough confidence to put me in the lineup this year, and I took advantage of some chances. He sees me in the 4-hole, so I go out there and take the same approach and try to get it done for my team."
Hahn acknowledges the Saints have become quite the postseason hurdle, joking that he'd like to check the boundaries of some of East's players to see if they could play for Geneva, but he also stood up for what his program has accomplished since joining the Upstate Eight Conference.
"Statistically, we have the third best record over the last three years of the 14 Upstate Eight teams," Hahn said. "Only East and Neuqua Valley have better conference records over the last three years, so I think we've shown we can not only compete but have success against these teams."
Geneva (20-16) notched its seventh straight 20-win season despite an adversity-filled spring. A pair of highly regarded seniors – pitcher Andy Honiotes and third baseman Mitch Endriukaitis – missed almost the entire season with injuries, and the Vikings had several other injuries to contend with, too.
"Obviously you miss having those guys," Hahn said. "They would have made a huge difference in our season. But you also look at it like maybe some of those other guys don't get opportunities, don't step up."
Some of those Geneva returnees will undoubtedly be taking aim at St. Charles East with renewed vigor next season in the aftermath of another Saints postseason triumph in Geneva.
"I grew up playing with a lot of these kids [on Geneva] and they always come in with a competitive group, really athletic," Huskisson said. "But we always have a special fire under us come playoff time, and I think coach does a really nice job in establishing a winning environment. It's just real nice to get it done and bring it home."