JOLIET – Just as Joliet Catholic Academy’s Jake Spotofora was about to throw the opening pitch against Chicago University in the Class 2A Joliet Catholic Academy Sectional semifinals, the skies opened and the top of the first inning was played in a downpour.
Luckily, the game had been moved from JCA’s home field to DuPage Medical Group Field because of the artificial turf at the home of the Joliet Slammers, allowing play to continue.
Spotofora hit the first batter of the game, but that was about it for his mistakes. Used mainly as a reliever throughout the season, Spotofora came up big when called upon as a starter in the Hilltoppers’ 3-0 victory. He threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits and striking out 14. Even with the big strikeout total, his pitch count was only 89, 67 of which were strikes.
“This is by far the best game I have pitched this year,” Spotofora said. “I was able to throw strikes. I was spotting the fastball at the knees to get ahead, then I would drop a slider in there.
“Even though our runs came late, I knew I was going to hold them. It was kind of a quirky win, but a win is a win in the playoffs.”
The rain let up after the top of the first, and most of the rest of the game was played in sunshine.
Chicago University starter Colin Leslie matched Spotofora early, shutting out JCA (22-10) over the first two innings. The Hilltoppers got a run in the bottom of the third. Danny O’Brien led off the inning with a walk and stole second. Two outs later, Luka Radicevich singled to left, chasing home the speedy O’Brien for a 1-0 Hilltoppers lead.
After hitting the leadoff batter, Spotofora retired the next 10 Maroons before Leslie tagged him for a one-out triple in the fourth. All Spotofora did then was strike out the next five batters and seven of the next eight.
JCA, which hosts the sectional championship at 11 a.m. Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s Coal City-Chicago Leo matchup, gave Spotofora a cushion in the bottom of the sixth.
Radicevich led off with a hustling double down the third-base line. A wild pitch sent him to third, and a walk to Trey Swiderski put runners on first and third. An out later, Radicevich came home on a wild pitch and, one hitter later, so did Swiderski. JCA finished with four hits, two by Radicevich and one each by Aidan Voss and Brennan Luz.
“When that ball got past the third baseman, I was thinking two all the way,” Radicevich said. “I wanted to get into scoring position. I did, and then a couple of passed balls, and I scored.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start out of Jake. He kept us in the game. It wasn’t pretty offensively, but any win is a good win in the playoffs.”
JCA coach Jared Voss summed up the game rather succinctly.
“Jake Spotofora,” he said. “Do I have to say anything else?
“What a great start by Jake. He has been used mostly in relief this year, but we knew we would probably need him for a start or two in the playoffs. He did an amazing job.
“Give credit to Chicago University and how they competed. We were able to scratch across a couple runs in the sixth, and they were huge. Going into the seventh with a 3-0 lead instead of 1-0 is a big difference.”
With one out in the top of the seventh, Connor Booth singled up the middle, just the second hit allowed by Spotofora. Voss summoned Dom Coda from the bullpen, and he induced a 5-4-3 double play from Luz at third to Tommy Kemp at second to Michael Ascencio at first.
“Jake just threw with a lot of confidence all day,” Voss said. “He probably could have finished it out, but that’s what Dom is in the bullpen for. To end it on a double play was great. I was just hoping to get one out there, but to turn the double play finished it off nice.”