The final hero of South Elgin’s run to a state third-place trophy Saturday had become a forgotten man of sorts.
Reliever Austin Sayer hadn’t pitched since May 23, but he came on with none out and two on and did just enough to avoid being burned for the loss while gaining his second save as the Storm won 6-5 over Prairie Ridge for the Class 4A third-place trophy.
“I hadn’t pitched in the playoffs at all and really wasn’t expecting to go in, but I came in and had to throw some ground balls — and that’s what I did,” he said. “Unfortunately, our defense made some errors, but we were able to get out of it.”
Sayer had pitched only 12 2/3 innings on the year before coming on in the pressure situation.
“You’ve got to get some nerves out right off the bat, but I was able to do that,” he said.
Prairie Ridge had two on in the seventh and Sayer got Jack Myers on a ground out to second to move the runners up.
An error on shortstop Dane Toppel on a grounder let a run score to make it 6-4, but the Storm got an out in a rundown when Austin Covers overran third base. Sayer hit Cal Aldridge with a pitch, and another run scored after Connor Schneider reached on an error and Nick Schmidt walked with the bases loaded. But Sayer then got leadoff man Chris Slack on a hopper back to the mound to end the game.
Coach Jim Kating said Sayer had been prepared so many times to enter games in the bullpen without playing, that he’d been given a nickname that the team didn’t want to reveal.
“Let’s just say he’s been up many times in the bullpen coming in to close games out, and never had the opportunity,” Kating said.
Starting, finishing hot
Pitcher Tyler Brown (6-3) hadn’t given up an earned run in 19 2/3 innings coming into the third-place game, and the Storm starter impressed Prairie Ridge hitters with his repertoire.
“I thought he mixed it up pretty well,” Prairie Ridge’s Kyle Buresch said. “He didn’t keep grooving fastballs. He didn’t throw just one pitch.
“It was kind of hard to pick up.”
South Elgin’s leadoff man Dane Toppel emerged with three hits in seven at-bats at state to lead his team average-wise in Joliet (.428).
He and Nick Menken (2-for-6) were the only Storm batters with more than one hit.
Toppel was picked off second base in the sixth inning after a single and his second stolen base of the game, 38th overall. He was caught stealing once besides the pickoff.
South Elgin’s six-run effort Saturday meant the Storm had outscored opponents 54-18 in the postseason.
The offensive explosion did not surprise first baseman-pitcher Ryan Nutof.
“The playoff energy is completely different than any regular season game,” he said “And I think that helped everyone out and got our bats awake.”
The nearly perfect Storm
The state trophy completed what was the biggest year in South Elgin’s short athletic history.
The boys basketball team reached the sectional finals.
The girls basketball team and the girls soccer team won regional crowns and the baseball team took third in the state for the school’s first state team trophy.
“It’s been an incredible year,” senior Ryan Nutof said.