ST. CHARLES – Geneva’s Ben Chally had hits in each of his first three at-bats, but his most valuable contributions to the Vikings baseball team came in less likely fashion – on the mound.
Chally played third base for the Vikings as a junior in the spring but has been dusting off his old, pitching skills this summer. That came in handy for Geneva on Wednesday as Chally’s strong work in relief nailed down the Vikings’ 9-7 win against Batavia in a Phil Lawler Summer Classic Regional semifinal.
“I just picked up pitching for the summer, and it’s fun, it’s a different position, learning stuff,” Chally said. “We have a couple kids back from previous teams [Riley Perry and John Swiderski] who are helping us out. It was fun. It was a good opportunity.”
Geneva advances to today’s 4 p.m. St. Charles Regional championship game against host St. Charles East.
Vikings coach Matt Hahn wants to see Chally continue to evolve as a pitcher as the hard-throwing right-hander builds toward his senior season.
“That’s going to be an added duty,” Hahn said. “He’s done really well on the mound for us this summer. We’ve kind of given him an inning here, an inning there, and then last week in our wood bat tournament he threw five innings and gave up nothing, no runs, and today he only gave up the one run.”
Chally’s three innings of one-run relief looked sparkling considering the teams were on track for a slugfest. Geneva led, 9-6, when Chally relieved left-handed starter Garrett Davis to start the bottom of the fifth.
The Vikings trailed, 5-2, before uncorking a seven-run, top of the fourth, sending 11 batters to the plate in the inning.
The first two runs in the inning scored when the Bulldogs mishandled Brandon Evert’s bases loaded bunt. Jack Wassel’s bases-clearing double capped the diverse damage inflicted by the Vikings.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been doing all summer – hit the ball to the right side, get the squeeze bunt down, get a bunt for a hit. … I know that didn’t all happen that one inning, but that’s kind of been our MO all summer,” Hahn said. “At the beginning of the summer we were not good at any of that stuff, and we’ve had to work really hard to get to that point.”
Austin Van Kempen was the starting pitcher for Batavia before being relieved by Nick Bleidorn and Ryan Olson.
“It’s a little bit of a sign to our second-tier pitchers,” Bulldogs coach Matt Holm said. “Their legs were failing them, they were tired and leaving the ball up, and you can’t do that against these guys. Geneva’s always a good-hitting team.”
Batavia finished the summer 19-7 and, coming off an Upstate Eight River Conference co-championship spring, the Bulldogs project to have another big season in 2014. Two of the team’s key pillars – Laren Eustace and Colby Green – missed Wednesday’s game while at a travel tournament.
Holm gave senior standout Micah Coffey – who played first base for Batavia in the spring – a look at shortstop this summer, and said there are enough intriguing pieces on the team that some difficult personnel choices are in the offing.
“A couple of parents and I were talking the other day, and [one of them] said ‘Man, I’d hate to have your problem. I’m like, ‘No, no. no. This is the greatest problem in the world to have,’ ” Holm said. “ ‘I can give you guys all kinds of other problems, I’ll take this any time.’ ”
Matt Guenther went 2 for 2 with a double and a walk for the Vikings, who seek their first summer Elite Eight berth in program history today.
Pitching will be a challenge as both teams play their fourth game in four days, but Hahn said everyone other than Bryan Callaly – who threw a complete game Tuesday – and Davis and Chally will be available.
“Other than those three guys, it might be an all hand’s on deck, give us everything you’ve got for as long as you can, and we’ll go to the next guy, but I’m OK with that,” Hahn said.