Prep Baseball Report

4A State Semifinal: St. Charles North fends off St. Rita, earns their first-ever shot at title

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

JOLIET, Ill. – The North Stars captured the lead in the fourth and never looked back. They had threatened, but hadn’t yet scored, until senior Egon Hein toughed out an at-bat that resulted in a two-run single pulled sharply through the left side of the infield, granting St. Charles North its first lead of the game.

Hein and four others on this North roster are already familiar with the state championship stage – only rather than the diamond, they shined in the fall on the gridiron. They’re to complete what they couldn’t get done in the fall, bringing back a championship trophy to St. Charles.

Head coach Todd Genke has been striving to get back to state since the North Stars earned their first-ever berth in 2016. Many of the seniors on this team may remember that trip, but none participated. Already, Genke and his troops have topped that team’s finish, earning a spot in the title game, rather than the 2016 team third-place finish.

But, obviously, this group won’t be satisfied with a seat at the table of the 2019 season’s final game, they’re gunning to take it all.

The multi-sport players on this squad combatted Chicago powerhouse Mount Carmel to get to state in the fall, and now they’ve battled by another Chicago Catholic League program – and PBR Illinois No. 1-ranked team, St. Rita – to get to the title game.

For Rita, senior starter Diego Koval tightroped past trouble in the first few frames, but was still managing to dodge barrels and free passes.

After a quiet first, the Mustangs struck first when they took advantage of a lead-off walk, followed by a base hit by Chris McDevitt. A groundout in the next at-bat plated the game’s first run, and then sophomore designated hitter Bobby Atkinson snuck a double down the right field line to score Rita’s second.

For St. Charles North, it looked like their plan on the mound was an attack by committee. When starter Andrew Jimenez got in trouble in the second, they opted to lean on one of their go-tos, Zach Kempe, to alleviate the Mustangs’ pressure. He answered the call and punched out the next two to stop the bleeding right there.

At this point, St. Charles North still had to be feeling good about their chances, despite their two-run deficit. They were getting a good look at Koval, even though they had nothing yet to show for it.

Finally, in the fourth, Ryan Thiesse and Kevin White led the inning off with back-to-back singles and the North Stars were set to pounce on the lead. With one out, a perfect squeeze set down by Alex Najera finally earned North their first run. A strikeout and a walk later, Hein stepped in and battled from an 0-2 count to hit a hard groundball through the left side of the infield, which allowed the tying and go-ahead runners to score, giving North a lead they would not relinquish.

And then in the fifth, St. Charles North simply continued to put the ball in play. They forced St. Rita to make the plays and while the Mustangs are typically sure-handed, they were not on this day. Two critical errors in the fifth frame added another couple of runs in North’s favor.

Down three, St. Rita made a run at a comeback in the bottom of the fifth inning. They loaded the bases with no outs, courtesy of two hit by pitches and a walk, which had North in a predicament. With junior Johnny Lambert on the mound now, he was going to have to squeeze out of this jam, starting with a face-off against one of the state’s best players: Jalen Greer.

Greer, who was selected in the fifth round of Monday’s MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, jumped on the first pitch he saw, lining a ball directly to the left fielder, deep enough to score a run, but North would be satisfied with that result. North failed to convert a tailor-made double play that allowed another run to score in the inning, but Lambert did well to escape the inning with his team out front still, 5-4.

Rita threatened again in the sixth, getting its first two runners on base again. This forced Genke to make the move, bringing in Nick DeMarco, their star shortstop, to the mound. He’s been a lights-out high-leverage arm for the North Stars this spring, and he proved that to be a fact again on Friday. After coaxing a groundout, he still had two outs to get with a two on when a Sean McDevitt did well to barrel a line-drive the other way – only it was guided directly at Kyler Brown, who had plenty of time to catch it and step on the bag at first to double up the runner, ending the threat.

The North Stars gave themselves some room to breathe in the top of the seventh when they loaded the bases. With two down, Najera grounded a soft grounder into the hole at shortstop, too soft to throw out at first, allowing a run to score, extending their lead to two, 6-4.

Scoring two off DeMarco is asking a lot of your offense, even one as potent as Rita’s. He was sitting in the 87-89 mph range and even touched 90 mph a couple of times, backing it up with a hard slider. Rita attempted to spark a rally when Brendan Carrane laid down a bunt down the third base line, but freshman third baseman Jayden Lobliner expertly corralled it and got him before he reached the first base bag. Greer then flied out to right and DeMarco came back down 3-0 to punch out the last batter of the game to send St. Charles North to their first-ever state title game.


+ 2B/SS Egon Hein, St. Charles North: 1-for-4, 2 RBI
+ OF Ryan Thiesse, St. Charles North: 2-for-4, 2 R
+ DH Alex Najera, St. Charles North: 2-for-2, 2 RBI
+ SS/RHP Nick DeMarco, St. Charles North: 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K, SV; 1-for-4
+ DH Bobby Atkinson, St. Rita: 2-for-3, 2B, RBI
+ LHP Al Holguin, St. Rita: 2.1 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K