JOLIET – Obviously, the St. Charles East baseball team would have preferred to join the school’s softball team in playing for a state championship Saturday rather than appearing in the Class 4A third-place game at Silver Cross Field.
But starting pitcher Matt Starai and the Saints were able to find motivation for their encounter with Neuqua Valley from a 4-0 loss they suffered at the hands of the Wildcats a month ago.
Neuqua Valley (30-11) handed Starai (11-1) his only loss of the season in that Upstate Eight Conference crossover game.
“They definitely got a hold of me the first time and I wanted to come out and compete today and show them I was better than that,” Starai said. “I might not have had my best stuff, but I wanted to go out there and compete and give us a chance to take third.”
In that earlier meeting, Wildcats senior Cody Coll shut the Saints out on two hits. This time, East made sure they it back up Starai with plenty of offense, scoring six runs in the first three innings en route to a 6-4 victory.
The key inning was the second. After Neuqua Valley scored a pair of unearned runs off Starai in the top of the frame, the Saints struck for four runs off Wildcat southpaw Danny Mokrzycki (8-1). With one out, Mokrzycki walked the bases loaded. Nicholas Erickson then lashed a double just inside the bag at first to score a pair of runs and, one out later, Joe Hoscheit followed with a single to center to plate two more.
“[Mokrzycki] was having a little bit of control issues that inning and everyone was just going up there trying to hit a good pitch,” Hoscheit said. “That’s what I tried to do when I got up there. Luckily I hit a line drive to center and got those two runs in. It was good to see everybody go up there with such a great approach.”
Hoscheit’s hit chased Mokrzycki from the game.
“My performance today definitely was not what I wanted,” Mokrzycki said. “What killed me was I struggled to find the strike zone today. … The first inning felt good and then I went out there the second inning and I felt like a different pitcher. I didn’t have a feel for anything. I couldn’t even throw a fastball over the plate.”
Starai also struggled a bit early on, giving up a run in the third on a pair of hits and a hit batter, but he retired seven of the last eight hitters he faced. The right-hander gave up six hits in five innings, walking one and striking out four.
“We knew, earlier in the year, he would get ahead of people and then come with his good off-speed,” said Wildcat junior Matt Butler, who had an RBI single in the third. “You want to find a good fastball early in the count and jump on it. If he gets ahead of you, you’re in a tough place there because he’ll throw that curveball. I don’t even know what else he throws, but it’s sick.”
Starai threw 76 pitches, 49 for strikes. East coach Len Asquini said Starai would have gladly pitched longer, but he had thrown 24 pitches Friday in the Saints’ 9-6 semifinal loss to Libertyville.
“Matt was a battler out there,” Asquini said. “He was running on empty and he just kept going and going. Troy Dykhuis came in there and did a real nice job to finish up those last two innings.”
Dykhuis gave up a run in the seventh as the Wildcats managed to get the tying run on base, but he struck out Butler to end the game. It was his fourth strikeout. He allowed three this and walked none.
Erickson and Hoscheit each had a pair of hits for the Saints (28-12), and Anthony Sciarrino picked up an RBI with a squeeze bunt in the third.
Hoscheit was 5-for-7 at the plate in the state tournament to raise his team-leading batting average to .375.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Hoscheit responded when asked for his thoughts on wearing the orange and black for the last time before going on to play at Northwestern. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I was just glad we could go out on top with a win.”
Starai echoed those sentiments.
“We had a great season,” he said. “It’s great to end it on a great note, coming down to state and ending it on a win. Not too many teams get to say they ended their career on a win.”