PLANO – Nick Stahl doesn’t even take batting practice.
As a pitcher only for Kaneland, he’s not obligated to worry about being at the plate. Coming into Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A Plano Regional final against top-seed St. Francis, Stahl was 0 for 1 at the dish all year long.
He would get his second at-bat of the season in a clutch moment and he made the most of it with the biggest hit of the season for Kaneland.
Stahl took St. Francis pitcher Ryan Hodgett deep for a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to seal a 4-1 victory for the Knights in nine.
“He is a pitcher only to the extreme,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “We’ve got about five of those guys that don’t even waste time in the cages.”
The game was a pitcher’s duel all the way, with no score coming until the fifth inning. After a one-out double from St. Francis’ Jack Ciombor, Kaneland (18-15) intentionally walked pitcher and leadoff hitter Jason Sullivan to get to Zach Prociuk. The senior first baseman made the Knights pay with a ringing shot down the third base line to knock in Ciombor and put St. Francis up, 1-0.
Sullivan was dealing on the mound for the Spartans but his fielders let him down in the top of the sixth. With a runner on first, Kaneland’s Ty Carlson hit a single up the middle. The ball was bobbled in center field and with Curtis Thorson trying to go from first to third, the throw from the outfield sailed into the dugout, allowing Thorson to score and tie the game up.
Stahl was brought in with two outs in the seventh inning to pitch with runners on first and second in a 1-1 tie game and retired Prociuk to end the threat.
In the ninth, the Spartans (23-11) went to the bullpen with Hodgett after Sullivan had reached about 100 pitches, according to St. Francis coach Rich Janor. Hodgett was able to retire two of the first three hitters and held an 0-2 count on Joey Panico, but Panico came through with an RBI double to left-center to score the go-ahead run.
That brought up Stahl, whose home run just cleared the fence in left-center field for his first hit of the season.
“I didn’t even think I was going to get an at-bat,” Stahl said. “He was sticking straight fastball because he was down in the count, so I figured I might as well jump on one.”
“Some heroes you wouldn’t expect got the job done,” Aversa added. “He put a charge into one and we couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
The Spartans had their chances throughout the game. In the first and third innings, St. Francis had a runner in scoring position, only to get picked off in both instances.
“We had a lot of opportunities with men in scoring position, we just couldn’t get that big hit,” Janor said. “When we give up one run, we should win.”
Those missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Spartans, as they couldn’t push across enough run support to back up a masterful performance from Sullivan. The junior tossed eight innings, giving up three hits and the one unearned run.
The win was extra gratifying for Kaneland, which avenged a home loss last season to St. Francis in the regional final.
“It’s a sweet win, I won’t lie,” Aversa said.