Renzi, Plainfield North knock out Joliet WestPlainfield North's Sean Renzi pitches against Joliet West. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 29, 2011 5:31PM
The lineup has been potent all season for Plainfield North, the No. 1 seed in the loaded Neuqua Valley Sectional.
But with one of the key ingredients, leadoff man Evan Whaley, sidelined with a swollen spleen, coach John Darlington has had to juggle.
Darlington moved Caleb Kissel, the usual No. 2 hitter, to the leadoff spot and inserted sophomore shortstop Kurt Palandech, normally the 6-hitter, into the 2-hole.
Palandech make his coach look good in Saturday’s championship game of the Class 4A Plainfield South Regional against Joliet West. He doubled high off the high center-field fence to knock in the first run in the bottom of the first inning, then scored himself on Brian Evaqk’s RBI grounder.
That staked ace Sean Renzi to a two-run lead, and the Tigers, the top seed in the sectional, were on their way to a 5-2 victory over West.
“That was a big double Kurt Palandech got,” said senior first baseman Pat Chasman, who added welcome insurance with a two-run double off the fence in the fifth. “He was looking for his first home run, and the big wall stopped him.”
North (31-2) advances to a Wednesday matchup against Downers Grove South in the Neuqua Sectional. West (20-9-1) entered the sectional as the No. 10 seed and earned plenty of respect with its regional performance.
On Friday, Mike Grindstaff, despite a lost contact lens, pitched a complete game and snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run double as West beat Plainfield South, the eighth seed, 5-1.
In the title game, coach John Karczewski’s team had the leadoff runner on base with nobody out in the second inning and runners on first and second with one out in both the third and fourth but to no avail as Renzi met the challenges, most often with strikeouts.
The senior right-hander worked six innings and threw 105 pitches, walking three and striking out 11 before Jake Ready came on to strike out the side in the seventh.
West’s Trey Martin homered after Matt Koran walked leading off the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-2 and make Cashman’s two-run double in the fifth all the more important. The homer was West’s third and final hit.
“Trey has done it all year,” Karczewski said. “He is one of the best left-handed hitters in the area.”
Cashman, who also has enjoyed a strong season at the plate, said he “hadn’t been having too many good at-bats in the regional,” before connecting for his double.
“I was glad to get it,” he added. “Our problem has been that after we score early, we have to keep hitting in the third, fourth and fifth innings. We haven’t always done that.”
North scored once in the second inning to go ahead 3-0 as Joe Cresta doubled and scored on Matt Fenza’s fielder’s choice.
“The early runs were a big help,” said Renzi, who played little league ball with many of the opposing Tigers. “I threw strikes today and had good defense behind me. I felt pretty good as the game went on. I was able to keep throwing hard.”
“We had to go in thinking hitting the fastball,” Karczewski said. “But when he (Renzi) gets ahead in the count like he did today, he’s going to be dangerous.
“The guy (umpire) behind the plate made it tough on us, but you still have to go in swinging the bats.”
North had four doubles among seven hits off West sophomore right-hander Jake Herron, who lasted 4 1/3 innings before sophomore Quinn Ahern relieved and retired all five batters he faced. One of the doubles, also off the fence, came off the bat of sophomore Zach Zybert, who had two hits as Whaley’s replacement in the outfield. Whaley’s status will be determined Tuesday.
“Zybert’s a sophomore who was playing his second varsity game,” Darlington said. “He’s a shortstop, but we stuck him out in left field. He did a good job.”
Herron was pitching for the first time in three weeks.
“Jake has been battling tendinitis,” Karczewski said. “But you know he is going to give his all every time out there.”
In West’s semifinal win Friday over Plainfield South, Grindstaff threw 117 pitches and got into a few james but was equal to the challenge. Eddie Nelson’s second-inning single knocked in South’s only run.
“He’s a good pitcher, but we had some good at-bats against him and had him on the ropes,” said South coach Phil Bodine, whose team had been idle the last week. “We had seven or eight guys left on, and in the big situations we had the right guys up, we just couldn’t get any clutch hits.”