Sandburg holds off Laurence
Updated: June 1, 2011 11:11PM
As Sandburg’s closer this season, Brant Valach has pitched in his fair share of big situations. None may have been bigger than Wednesday’s sectional semifinal.
Looking to get the last four outs vs. St. Laurence, the senior went through the heart of the Vikings order to preserve a 3-1 win at the Class 4A Sandburg Sectional.
“It’s just composure,” Valach said. “Over the years in baseball, there are going to be ups and downs.”
Sandburg (25-8) will play in the sectional final at 11 a.m. Saturday against the winner of today’s Lincoln-Way North- Lincoln-Way East semifinal.
Brought into the game in relief of starter Nick Bates, Valach saw an error made behind him, then he hit Charlie Villanova with a pitch to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Standing opposite of him was one of the most feared hitters in the state, St. Laurence’s Kyle Wood.
“Kyle is a great hitter; it’s obvious with the numbers he puts up,” Valach said. “I knew I wasn’t going to strike the kid out or blow anything past him. I wanted to pound the zone and hopefully, he pops up or grounds out.”
Valach did just that, getting Wood to hit a rocket grounder to Bates at second to end the threat.
In the bottom of the seventh, Valach pitched around a double and a second error, getting Mike Solofra on a flyout to deep right to end the game. It was Valach’s seventh save.
“The planets are starting to align,” Sandburg coach Doug Sutor said. “We’re lucky to be here, almost losing to Marist in the regionals. You have to be lucky and good. I like the way the kids are playing, and we got out of some big jams.”
Bates and Valach consistently found themselves pitching out of jams, stranding 12 St. Laurence runners. The Vikings left the bases loaded in both the fifth and sixth innings but did not scratch a run across.
“That hasn’t been us all year, and that’s what is frustrating,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “We’ve played in big games all year, and a majority of the time came through.”
Sandburg took the lead on a Dylan Rajkovich two-run double in the fourth. St. Laurence (29-7) answered with a run in the bottom of the inning on a Solofra RBI single.
Bates lasted 52/3 innings, striking out eight and walking five.
“I was trying to work around some of the hitters, make them hit my pitch instead of a fat fastball,” Bates said. “I started working the corners, and walked some people when I didn’t get the calls.”
St. Laurence starter Nick Altobella threw a gem, going 61/3 innings, giving up two unearned runs while striking out seven.
“Nick was tremendous,” Lotus said. “If you’d told me we got that effort from Nick, I would have said ‘great,’ but I thought we’d score more runs.”