HAMPSHIRE – With DeKalb starter Jackson Kees quickly approaching the pitch limit in the bottom of the fourth inning against Hampshire in a tie game with two on and two outs, Evan Spenk wanted an offspeed pitch.
Spenk fouled off three straight pitches, got his changeup, and pulled it into right field to break open a tie game and give the No. 3 Whip-Purs a 5-3 win in a Class 4A Hampshire Regional semifinal Thursday.
“The outlook right now is very, very bright. I’m excited about it and we just need to fill a few spots. But we have seven out of nine starters coming back. You’ve got to feel confident about that.”— Josh Latimer, DeKalb coach
“I knew that kid wasn’t going to really beat me with a fastball there so I was sitting offspeed,” Spenk said. “He gave me one and I pulled it down.”
Spenk’s double scored Kyle Johnson, who reached on an error, and Austin Leonard, who was one of two batters Kees hit in the game to go with four walks for DeKalb’s sophomore ace. It broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Whip-Purs (20-15) their first lead of the game.
“He’s been going to right and center field all year,” Hampshire coach Frank Simoncelli said. “He’s been pulling the ball a little more lately. I thought he just put an amazing swing on it.”
The double ended the day for Kees as the Barbs brought on Josh Klemm in relief, and he allowed just one hit and one walk in 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
The fifth-seeded Barbs (16-17-1) jumped ahead after the top of the first two innings, but Hampshire answered back each time. Hampshire starter Colin Miller plunked Kees and Brodie Farrell in the first and Maddux Clarence made him pay with a two-run double.
But Hampshire got the runs back in the bottom of the first when Dominick Kooistra doubled, then Spenk and Dominic Borecky walked to load the bases. An errant pickoff throw to third by Kees allowed Kooistra to score, then Spenk scored on a balk to tie things up at 2-2.
In the second, Gavin Heller walked and came around to score on a fielder’s choice by Farrell to put DeKalb back ahead, but Johnson was hit by a pitch and scored after back-to-back singles by Kooistra and Austin Leonard to tie things up at 3-3.
“Getting down and out early, that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Spenk said. “Coming back really gave us some life I’d say.”
The Barbs had a chance to tie in the top of the seventh. Austin Ernst came on in relief in the third and had only allowed one hit until Farrell doubled and Clarence singled, both with two outs. But Cole Latimer grounded out to end the game.
“We fought to the end and that’s what I’m most proud about,” DeKalb coach Josh Latimer said. “Brodie, Maddux get hits, and Cole – he’s a 15-year-old kid and I Iove him obviously, he’s my boy – he had a great approach there, great swing on it but just got on top of it. It was the best approach he had all day.”
The season comes to a close for the Barbs, who will lose just two seniors from their starting lineup. The 16 wins DeKalb finished with were the most since a 19-win campaign in 2015.
“I think the year went great. I really do,” Josh Latimer said. “I’m happy with the year. I’m happy with the win total we got. I’m happy with the way we played being such a young group. I’m very happy with the way the seniors approached the year.”
Clarence, a junior, had two of the four hits for the Barbs. Kees allowed five hits in 3 2/3 innings and four earned runs.
“The outlook right now is very, very bright,” Josh Latimer said. “I’m excited about it and we just need to fill a few spots. But we have seven out of nine starters coming back. You’ve got to feel confident about that.”
The Whip-Purs advance to face No. 1 Huntley for the regional title at 11 a.m. Saturday. Hampshire lost both games to its Fox Valley Conference foes, 16-6 on the road and 11-3 at home.
Simoncelli said he wasn’t sure who would be on the mound against the Red Raiders, who beat Jefferson 26-0 in the first semifinal Wednesday.
“We’re confident. Anything can happen,” Simoncelli said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season, it doesn’t matter the matchup in the regular season. It’s a brand-new game and we’ve got a good team. They’ve been through this and we want the challenge.”