Kyle Chavez has been nursing back pain lately that has contributed to him being out of the Joliet West lineup more often than not.
After Chavez went 3-for-3 in Monday’s key 6-3 SouthWest Suburban Blue victory at Lincoln-Way Central, West coach John Karczewski joked, “I hope he has more pain.”
Each of Chavez’s three hits was solid and came with two outs. The last, a two-run single to left field, capped a five-run fifth-inning explosion as the Tigers (15-7, 7-3) broke a 1-1 tie and made a winner of ace right-hander Jake Herron.
“Any time we can get Jake six runs, it’s a good situation for us,” Karczewski said.
Chavez acknowledged his back has been bothering him for a while, and “Isaac (Taylor) has been playing better than me,” he said. “So he’s been getting more playing time.
“For whatever reason, I felt good (Monday). I was seeing it well. Maybe it was the rest. My legs and back are a little sore, but I was able to play through it.”
Chavez hit in the 8-hole, and his big day was not the only source of celebration for the Tigers. The middle of the West order, which Karczewski said has been struggling, delivered. “To see them come through was huge,” he said.
Kevin Ganzer knocked in a first-inning run with a triple. Anthony DiNardo ripped a two-run single to break the 1-1 tie in the fifth, Alex Lakatos singled in two runs and Alex Wesner doubled before Chavez’s two-run single.
Of course, it was consecutive bunt singles by the Nos. 1-2 hitters, Larry Holman and Zack Thomas, Holman’s steal and a double steal with Thomas on the front end that ignited the big inning.
“They bunt with anybody and have the speed to do it,” Central coach Scott Gardner said.
Herron allowed two runs in the bottom of the fifth as West’s lead shrunk to 6-3. But Quinn Ahern relieved and, with the help of Chavez’s running catch to end the sixth and shortstop Cody Grosse’s spectacular backhanded play to open the seventh, shut down the Knights (12-9, 6-4) the final two innings.
“Lately we’ve been stressing putting the ball in play and having better approaches at the plate,” Gardner said. “We did a good job, we just didn’t get big hits.”
If Grosse’s gem was not the play of the game, then it was Central left fielder Pat Michalak’s backhanded diving catch in deep left center in the seventh, robbing Wesner of his second straight double.
Sean Barry had a single, RBI groundout and double for the Knights, and in his other at-bat nearly tore the glove off the left hand of Herron, who recovered and turned it into a forceout.
The Tigers won the earlier meeting over Central 2-1. The Knights have two conference games remaining against contenders Lockport and Lincoln-Way East, so they will help determine how the wild Blue race plays out.