The St. Charles East baseball team found its sense of urgency in time to enjoy the season it expected all along.
A veteran Saints team entered the spring thinking big things were possible, but that optimism was tested early as the Saints lost four of their first six games.
Coach Len Asquini figured the Saints’ early woes were correctable, but not without putting the players through the game scenarios that were proving problematic in practice, time after time, until their confidence could be rebuilt.
The lessons took root. Starting with an April 5 win against Bartlett, East won eight of its next nine games. The Saints were even crisper down the stretch, storming to the IHSA Class 4A semifinal in Joliet and eventually finishing third in the state with a 28-12 record.
“The importance of every play, every at-bat, every out,” said Asquini, Kane County Chronicle Baseball Coach of the Year for the second straight season. “That was one thing that at the end of this year this group embraced a little bit different than what they did at the beginning. It’s all real important. That first out at the beginning of the game is just as important as [the last out]. This group took that and ran with it, and it worked for them.”
Riding the formidable pitching trio of seniors Matt Starai, Nick Huskisson and Troy Dykhuis, East also benefited from sturdy defense and picked up its offense in the second half of the season and the postseason.
“We knew we were pretty talented,” Asquini said. “It was a matter of getting kids to believe and the chemistry, and then the sky’s the limit when you have that, and particularly this year, it definitely happened.”
Aside from playing better situational baseball – which helped the Saints pull out five, one-run decisions, including a 2-1 win against Glenbard East in a regional semifinal – Asquini had some personnel challenges to navigate.
The third base spot proved difficult to nail down until the final weeks, when senior Sean Dunne capitalized on his chance to solidify the hot corner.
Northwestern recruit Joe Hoscheit started slow but responded when Asquini moved him to the No. 3 hole in the order. Hoscheit batted better than .500 during the postseason.
“He was not Joe Hoscheit at the leadoff spot,” Asquini said. “So we needed him to get going, and boy, what a tournament he had. Holy cow.”
East’s season included a co-Upstate Eight Conference River title with Batavia, making Asquini 2 for 2 on the conference title front during his second go-around guiding the program.
Keeping the good times rolling won’t be easy as only outfielder Brannon Barry and catcher Adam Rojas are slated to return as starters next season.
The Saints, though, have solid classes coming up. Among the reinforcements will be Asquini’s son, Jake, who will be a junior first baseman next year.
“We lost a lot,” Asquini said. “We lost a lot of innings pitched, we lost a lot of at-bats. We were upperclass, senior-dominated. Our challenge here this summer and for next year is to get the new seniors that opportunity, those at-bats, and get them ready to go.”
It might take a while, but Asquini usually gets it right.