ELGIN – There is an old baseball adage where a team’s best chance to get to an opponent’s ace pitcher is early in games.
York followed the adage to a ‘T’ during Thursday’s Class 4A South Elgin Sectional semifinal clash with Wheaton North at Elgin Community College.
The 10th-seeded Dukes touched Falcons ace starting pitcher Will Fletcher for a first-inning run, and the tally held up for the remainder of the contest during their eventual 1-0 victory.
With the win, York (16-16) advances to Saturday’s 11 a.m. sectional championship against 13th-seeded Lake Park (14-18) at ECC.
“This was a good team game and a well-played game by both teams,” York coach Dave Kalal said. “The pitching was unbelievable on both sides.”
York opened the bottom half of the first inning with back-to-back singles from Mark Schneider and Jack Braun before junior catcher Jack Rozmus delivered an RBI single to left on the first pitch he saw from Fletcher.
“I was looking for a fastball early,” Rozmus said. “With a runner on second, I was looking to do some damage. I got my pitch, swung, and it worked out.”
“We got fortunate in that first inning,” said Kalal, whose team will be aiming for its first sectional title since 1996 on Saturday. “We got a couple baserunners on, a few things went our way, and we scratched across that run.”
Thanks in part to a combined effort from pitchers Tommy VanDaff, Chris Danko and Max Hansmann, the 1-0 lead was enough for York.
VanDaff worked the first 3 1/3 innings, allowing the Falcons’ only two hits — one was a bunt single by Matthew Buehler — while walking two and striking out two.
After VanDaff walked Jackson Moore with one out in the fourth, Kalal elected to call on sophomore reliever Danko.
“I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have him (VanDaff) out there too long where he got fatigued and made a couple mistakes,” Kalal said. “I wanted him to be sharp with his off-speed stuff, especially, and that’s what he did today.”
Danko came in and worked his way out of the fourth, getting Casey Morrison on a grounder to shortstop after a nine-pitch duel. The right-hander retired all eight batters he faced before giving way to closer Hansmann, who issued a leadoff walk in the seventh but fanned the next two batters and induced a game-ending groundout to second baseman Brian Filosa.
“That was our plan — we talked about it before we left for the park today,” Kalal said of his pitching strategy. “It’s nice when a plan comes to fruition.”
Rozmus wasn’t surprised by his team’s pitching prowess.
“It was a group effort — that’s how it has been all season,” said Rozmus. “Coach has been saying all year that we’re built for the playoffs. We’ve got the arms and the depth on the mound.”
Heartland Community College-bound Fletcher, who allowed just 1 hit after the first, finished with 12 strikeouts, striking out the side in the second and sixth innings for the 11th-seeded Falcons (17-19).
“Will probably deserved a little better,” Falcons coach Dan Schoessling said. “It’s a good lineup that he went up against. He has been our stud the last couple years, and he showed it today for sure. We’re really going to miss his presence on the mound.
“Credit to their (York) arms. We didn’t have many chances. These were two very evenly matched teams — they were just a little bit better today.”