CRYSTAL LAKE – The recent fortunes of two of the area’s best baseball teams were defined by one play on Wednesday afternoon.
Crystal Lake South’s Griffin Bright ripped a line drive down the right-field line that easily would have scored the tying run from second base and put runners on second and third with two outs, but the ball sliced foul by just a few inches.
Cary-Grove breathed a sigh of relief, and two pitches later Trojans’ right-hander Mike Eleftheriou caught Bright looking at a called third strike to give C-G a 6-5 Fox Valley Conference baseball victory, the Trojans’ ninth consecutive win.
South, meanwhile, has lost three straight by a combined total of four runs.
“I couldn’t tell,” Trojans catcher Tyler Pennington said of Bright's foul line drive. “I did the lean, hoping to push it foul. That’s a game-changer and it’s a break we caught today.”
Gators first-base coach Ryan Kelley was close to the line to get a look and said the ball was foul by a few inches.
“I was off the mound a little bit and I looked down the line and saw the ball tailing,” Eleftheriou said. “We all freaked out. We all thought it was fair.”
Eleftheriou, who had missed two days of school while sick and normally is a starter, then finished the game with a full-count strike to Bright.
“Mike was willing to just help us win a game,” Trojans coach Don Sutherland said. “He was very unselfish and did a great job staying tough. Obviously he wasn’t as sharp as he has been, but he certainly battled like he always does.”
C-G (23-7 overall, 16-6 FVC) never trailed on Wednesday. Collin Walsh and Ryan Ignoffo led off the game with back-to-back solo homers. Ben Levicki added his solo shot in the fourth and the Trojans eventually built a 5-2 lead.
South (26-5, 17-5) came back in the sixth inning when Brian Fuentes drew a bases-loaded walk and Nick Wolski doubled in two more runs.
Pennington ripped a line drive into right-center just far enough away from both outfielders to make it a double leading off the seventh for C-G.
“I was just looking to get on base,” Pennington said. “I know the wind was blowing out and a lot of damage was done, but getting back to basics and getting baserunners. It starts with one guy, I was happy to be that guy.”
Justin Trausch singled, sending Pennington to third. With one out, Zach Willis beat out a potential double-play ball to score Pennington with the game-winner.
“I was proud of the way we competed,” Gators coach Brian Bogda said. “We did a nice job against (C-G starter Matt) McCumber, adjusting throughout the game. It was a game of inches, a matter of we had opportunities on the double play (with Willis) and just missed it. The ball a little foul … we’re right there. Unfortunately, we just haven’t had any luck lately.”
Cary-Grove, Sr., SS
Willis’ ground ball in the top of the seventh took a high hop to Crystal Lake South shortstop Kory Olsen, who flipped to second baseman Scott Skwarek in an effort to turn the double play. Willis just beat the throw to first base for the game-winning RBI as Tyler Pennington scored from third.
3: Solo home runs for Cary-Grove, hit by leadoff man Collin Walsh, No. 2 hitter Ryan Ignoffo and No. 8 hitter Ben Levicki. Walsh and Ignoffo homered within the game’s first three pitches.
AND ANOTHER THING...
With South chasing Huntley by one game heading into the final three-game series, Gators coach Brian Bogda actually called on starter Kyle Lang in relief in the top of the seventh inning with the score tied. Lang threw only two pitches and could come back Thursday or Friday for his regular start.
Cary-Grove 6, Crystal Lake South 5
Cary-Grove 200 120 1 - 6 10 3
CL South 020 003 0 - 5 10 0
WP: Mike Eleftheriou, 7-1 (3IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 4K). LP: Mark Paul, 3-2 (1.2IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 0K).
Top hitters-Cary-Grove: Collin Walsh 1-4 (HR, RBI, R), Ryan Ignoffo 1-4 (HR, RBI, R), Tyler Pennington 2-3 (2B, R), Justin Trausch 2-3, Matt McCumber 1-3 (RBI), Ben Levicki 1-3 (HR, RBI, R). CL South: Ryan Parquette 1-3 (2B, R), Brian Fuentes 1-2 (RBI), Nick Wolski 1-4 (2B, 2 RBI), Scott Skwarek 4-4 (RBI, R).