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St. Charles East, Jacobs set for showdown

Jacobs and St. Charles East are battle tested and loaded with talent, but only one team will walk away with its state championship hopes still intact Monday night.

The Golden Eagles and Saints will put their tremendous seasons on the line when they square off at 7 p.m. in the Class 4A Loves Park Supersectional at Rockford Aviators Stadium. The winner advances to the state finals on Friday and Saturday in Joliet.

For Jacobs (25-11), the matchup offers an opportunity to extend the most successful season in program history. The Golden Eagles won their first regional and sectional titles and also broke the program record for wins in a single season. Their only blemish was a sixth-place finish in the rugged Fox Valley Valley Division, but now they’ll try to carry the conference’s banner as the only team still standing from the highly-regarded league.

“I’m sure everyone around the state hears how tough the Fox Valley is, so we’re going to do the best to not only represent Jacobs and the Algonquin community, but also the Fox Valley Conference,” Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said. “I’m sure the coaches in our conference want to see us do that and we’re going to give it our best shot.”

St. Charles East (26-11) is coming off its fourth sectional title in program history and first since 2004. The first three times the Saints won a sectional they advanced to the state finals, capturing a state championship in 1999 and finishing fourth in 2004.

The rich program history meant little to St. Charles East’s players this year, who were determined to break through after losing in the sectional round each of the past three seasons. The Upstate Eight River champions made good on their promise by defeating Wheaton North 5-3 on Saturday to win their own sectional.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity for the kids, especially the seniors,” St. Charles East coach Len Asquini said. “They fell a little short of the goal last year as juniors, so it’s great to see them take the next step and get another chance.”

Jacobs junior Riley Peltier owns a 4-0 record, 1.67 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 42 innings and is expected to get the start in the supersectional. Senior ace Evan Blunk, who is 4-3 with a 1.42 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings, could also be available despite pitching seven innings in a sectional semifinal victory Thursday.

Senior Connor Conzelman, a Valparaiso recruit for football, is the team’s top offensive threat with eight home runs, 35 RBI and a .306 average. Aaron Meciej boasts a team-best .382 batting average for the Golden Eagles, who have lived up to lofty expectations after reaching the semifinals of the of last year’s IHSBCA summer state tournament.

“In the summer some people don’t really want to be there, but we used it as a step ladder to get to this point,” Jacobs senior Nick Ledinsky said. “During that run we played at games of this magnitude, and now I feel like we are using that experience now.”

Northwestern recruit Joe Hoscheit, a three-year varsity standout, leads St. Charles East’s offense with a .353 average and 33 runs scored. Brian Sobieski isn’t far behind with a .351 average and a team-best 23 RBI.

Senior Matt Starai has been lights out on the mound this season and is in line to get the start after going the distance in last Wednesday’s sectional semifinal win. The right-hander is 9-1 with a 0.49 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 71 innings.

“Jacobs is a scrappy team a lot like us,” said Asquini. “They do what they need to do to win. It should be a great game.”

Said Sobieski: “There are eight teams left playing in the state and it feels great to be one of them. Not a lot of people expected us to be here, but we knew we could be all along. The senior leadership has played a big role.”

— Scott Miller contributed

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