Sophomore Matt Paszko off to a good start at Vernon Hills

SHARE Sophomore Matt Paszko off to a good start at Vernon Hills

VERNON HILLS — When Vernon Hills sophomore Matt Paszko stepped to the plate against Palatine with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 2-2 game last week, the butterflies suddenly kicked in.

It was his first varsity start, and up to that point, Paszko was 1-for-3 with a walk.

“I had a mix of nerves and excitement when I walked up to the plate,” Paszko said. “I knew that it was important. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was focused on hitting the ball hard and putting it in play.”

He did just that, ripping a single that found its way through the infield for a walk-off winner for the Cougars, who surged to 19-7 overall with the victory. As Paszko touched first base, a sea of white jerseys suddenly raced toward him.

“When I saw the ball rolling in the outfield and rounded first base, I glanced back and saw the whole team running after me,” Paszko said. “It was an amazing feeling. I am very grateful for this opportunity to play on this team and glad I got the chance. I’ve dreamed of a moment like this ever since I started playing baseball.”

Paszko, who played right field against Palatine, is one of many Vernon Hills players who has delivered in a key situation this spring.

“Everyone just mobbed him, it was an incredible moment for Matt and for our entire team,” Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki said. “Some teams have one or two players who are stars who carry a lineup, but when that happens, the team usually succeeds or struggles based on how those few guys play. Sort of an ‘as they go, you go’ kind of thing.

“Here, it’s kind of different. It seems like it’s always someone different coming up big for us this season. There’s almost this expectation now that someone will come up with a big hit, or a big play when the game’s on the line. It’s been that kind of year. Matt’s just the latest example. We strive for that kind of balance up and down our lineup.”

Team chemistry is surging, too. The Cougars will need that as they prepare for the stretch run in the NSC Prairie Division and the upcoming Class 3A playoffs. Vernon Hills opened the week 6-2 in conference play, in a three-way tie atop the Prairie Division standings with Lakes and Grant.

“I think that’s what’s made me happiest,” Czarnecki said. “When Matt got that game-winning hit, everyone embraced him. We could’ve had guys complaining who’ve been here all season that someone got called up and took their spot for a day. No one did that. No one is complaining about losing at bats when things like that happen here. It’s been a true team effort all year, a group of guys willing to sacrifice or do whatever it takes. It’s exciting and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.”

Vernon Hills senior John Goehrke applauded his new teammate’s effort.

“I think Palatine’s pitcher threw well all game and it was a matter of time before we broke through on him,” Goehrke said. “We were able to get a couple of guys on in the eighth. Fortunately Matt was able to use the experience from his first couple varsity at bats to his advantage.”

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