CRYSTAL LAKE – An excited Troy Bittenbender threw out his arms and glided around the bases after his fly ball crashed through the top of a pine tree behind the right-center field fence.
The Crystal Lake South senior right fielder had tied the score in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Gators, already brimming with confidence after wiping out Hoffman Estates’ five-run lead, sensed what was coming.
“I thought we were going to win it eventually,” relief pitcher Tyler Parquette said. “Momentum was totally on our side.”
An inning later, after Parquette had whiffed three Hawks, pinch hitter Michael Danca singled sharply past a drawn-in infield giving South a 6-5, eight-inning victory in a nonconference baseball game Tuesday.
“I was going to take a strike, but I saw a fastball coming and just loaded up and swung,” said Bittenbender, who hit a 1-0 pitch from pitcher Ethan Bloom. “It felt good. When it went over, I didn’t know what to do. I was just running around. We had a ton of momentum, I thought we’d finish it off in the next two innings.”
Any victory for South (2-0) appeared unlikely after Hoffman Estates (0-2) took a 5-0 lead in the third inning. Bloom, a junior right-hander, hit a two-run home run in the first and tripled and scored in the third. He cruised through three innings on the mound, and even when the Gators scored three in the fourth, they did so with only one hit.
Hawks coach Todd Meador felt the fourth inning was critical for his team.
“We got our first two guys on, then went strikeout, strikeout, ground out,” Meador said. “If we go up 7- or 8-0, it’s a completely different game. Instead, they score their runs and it’s 5-3. Their second guy (Eric Schiller) shut us down, and their last guy (Parquette) was very good. You have a chance to put a team down. If we have a three- or four-run lead, I don’t think [Parquette] comes in at the end.”
Schiller pitched three scoreless innings before Parquette, a left-hander with a pointed goatee, struck out four of the seven batters he faced.
“I just went out there and wanted to throw strikes like I did last summer,” Parquette said.
Gators coach Brian Bogda decided to let Danca go ahead and hit with a 2-0 count in the eighth, even though two Hawks pitchers had not thrown a strike in the inning. Danny Alba started the inning and Jack Kelley came in with two runners on and a 2-0 count to Garrett Bright, who was intentionally walked.
Danca then lined a 2-0 pitch past diving second baseman Jeff Mayes for the game-winner.
“We wanted [Danca] to be aggressive there,” Bogda said. “It was a situation where we had them on the ropes. It was a fun game. What I really liked was the way we had different guys contribute today. The way we were able to battle back and chip away and get a big shot from Troy was great.”
No. 9 hitter Will Fogel did not have a hit or an RBI, but twice played crucial roles to help produce runs. Fogel reached base on errors after hard-hit, two-out ground balls in the fourth and sixth innings, with runs scoring each time.
“I just tried to put the ball in play and score the run and help the team,” Fogel said. “I just tried to hit it hard and see what happened. Both were hit pretty solid.”