SOUTH ELGIN – Ben Smith’s primal “WOOO!” carried quite a ways Thursday, farther than even the two-run single that prompted it.
Smith snapped the St. Charles East baseball team’s 20-inning scoreless streak with his two-out hit in the seventh inning at South Elgin. While his celebratory scream took that slump into account, the sound largely hailed the 2-1 Upstate Eight Conference crossover victory it helped create.
“Oh, you know, it was a battle all day long,” said Smith, a senior first baseman. “We hadn’t scored in a while, so it felt great to come through.”
Before rallying against Storm reliever Austin Sayre – who they also had on the ropes in the sixth – the Saints (4-2, 1-1 UEC River) struggled against Michigan-bound righty Ryan Nutof.
Working ahead in counts behind an effective first-pitch fastball, Nutof struck out 12 Saints in five innings while scattering four hits and two walks.
East center fielder Brannon Barry called Nutof the best pitcher he has seen in his varsity career outside of former teammate Matt Starai – Barry’s first-pitch double in the third notwithstanding. The subject of another Barry assessment helped keep his team in the game against the Storm (2-2, 1-1 UEC Valley).
Senior righty Mike Boehmer won just one game last season, in part because he pitched behind Starai and a senior-laden staff.
On Thursday, he delivered his second victory of 2014 with six innings of two-hit, four-strikeout and four-walk ball.
“Mike might not have the velocity that Nutof has, but Mike went pitch for pitch with him,” Barry said.
Not literally, of course. Boehmer enjoyed more success with his off-speed and secondary pitches to keep South Elgin hitters guessing.
“Sometimes you get innings where you’re just real focused,” Boehmer said. “I was wild at the beginning and again at the end, but managed to be effective in the middle.”
Mick Vyzral worked around a seventh-inning run to earn the save.
East stranded multiple runners on base in three innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth.
Acting on a tip from assistant coach Mark Foulkes, Saints hitters crowded the plate in the seventh. The rationale, Smith said, was to protect the outside part of the plate enough that anything that didn’t hit the Saints was a strike.
Smith’s two-run single, his second hit of the game, scored pinch runner Mike Settle and Barry. The Saints eluded potential disaster earlier in the inning after a bunt foulout and confusion on the base paths after Barry’s bloop single over shortstop.
Barry advanced to second one batter before Smith, at the back end of Reid Olson’s deep sacrifice fly to center. Settle narrowly beat a fantastic throw from the Storm’s Nick Menken, and the umpire’s “safe” call flustered South Elgin’s second baseman enough for him to vacate the base momentarily.
“Just took off and tried to advance as quickly as possible, because that’s scoring position,” Barry said.
Moments later, Smith delivered the first East runs since the seventh inning of an April 2 game at Fremd. Shortly after that, the “WOOO!” was on.