LISLE – A bang-bang play at the plate and a batter's interference call went against the St. Charles East baseball team within moments Wednesday night.
The Saints' bid for a Phil Lawler Summer Classic state championship ended with a 1-0 loss to Lyons Township in the semifinals, prompting understandable sulking. But "What if?" works both ways, and at least one Saint had immediate sights on the strides the team made toward the spring of 2014.
"It feels great, because we don't really have the offense we did last year, so our pitching is going to be huge this year," Saints junior right-hander Kyle Cook said. "If we can have those four guys that can go out there and go to war every day for us, I think we'll do pretty well with our pitching."
Cook cemented himself in that number with a sparkling summer that concluded with a four-hitter against the Lions (26-6), who advanced to tonight's state championship game against Libertyville/St. Rita at Benedictine University.
East coach Len Asquini lauded Cook's "leaps and bounds" improvement that was fueled by a dazzling breaking ball and plenty of grit. Both were on display Wednesday, as Cook commanded his pitches and kept defending Lawler champion Lyons at bay two days after pitching two innings of relief in the team's tournament opener.
East (21-14-1) managed only a single from shortstop Jake Milosch against Lyons junior lefty Quinton Hughes, who, like Cook, struck out three batters and credited his breaking stuff for any success.
"Really, it was the curveball," Hughes said. "Knowing I had that in any count and always had my defense behind me."
Lyons tallied the game's lone run in the bottom of the sixth, moving center fielder Max Larsen around to score after his leadoff bloop single. Larsen advanced to second on a passed ball on the next pitch and took third on Sam Heilenbach's ground ball single through the hole at shortstop later in the at-bat.
Larsen scored one batter later on Sam Cybulski's tapper, hit just to Cook's left. With catcher Adam Rojas and first baseman Ben Smith barking at Cook to throw home, he swiftly followed orders, but Larsen was safe.
"You know, I thought we had them there, I thought we got the tag down," Cook said. "But I guess not."
The Saints appeared to advance the potential tying run into scoring position with one out in the seventh, but their comeback dissolved on a batter's interference call. With pinch runner Jon Finn sliding in to steal second after a Smith walk, the home plate umpire ruled left fielder Erik Anderson to be in obstruction of the catcher. By rule, Anderson was out and Finn returned to first base.
Anderson did not offer at the pitch but checked his swing slightly, one of Asquini's primary arguing points.
"Maybe they're the right calls," Asquini said. "I don't know. I guess I'm saying no, of course, but bottom line, we needed to do a little more offensively to push a run across, or try to."
Asquini joked that "I was lonely" coaching third base, as he never had a Saint to say hello to. Moments later, he seemed plenty content about all the extra opportunities he's had to see players in the past six weeks.
East finished third in Class 4A during the spring, concluding its season June 8. Although a core of contributors graduated from that team, this group hopes it got a jump start on duplicating or surpassing the 2013 run.
Considering where the Saints started the summer, they'll take it.
"We were not very sharp all the way around," Asquini said. "Our pitching wasn't very good. Our defense wasn't very good. We didn't run bases well. Our swing approach was poor. So we had lots and lots of things to work on, and like I've said, we started to morph into what we want and what we need for them to be successful, and look at how far we went."
The Saints thank their pitching for that. Before Cook, there were several other standout performances, namely senior Mike Boehmer's one-hitter in Tuesday's elimination game win against Glenbrook North.
Bringing the offense up to speed will be the focus for next spring, but East knows there's plenty of time for that.
"It's a long offseason," Cook said. "Going to have to put in a lot of work to come back strong next year."