Huntley and Jacobs were involved in a season-long battle for supremacy of the brutally tough Fox Valley Valley, and could be on a rematch collision course at the Class 4A McHenry Sectional.
First, however, both need to defeat familiar opponents when play begins Wednesday at McHenry’s Petersen Park.
“We’re very fortunate to play such good conference battles where we’ve been tested every day,” Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. “When we faced [Larkin’s] Jack McCracken and [Dundee-Crown’s] Ahren Ludwig in the regionals, that’s the type of quality pitcher we were used to seeing every day in our division. We definitely feel it gets us prepared.”
Added Jacobs coach Jamie Murray: “You could say we’re battle-tested.”
Huntley (26-7-1) plays at 4 p.m. against division rival Prairie Ridge (22-16), while Jacobs (23-13) confronts perennial NIC-10 power Hononegah (24-11) at 6:30.
Huntley had just two hits off Ludwig in a 3-2 extra-inning title game win over Dundee-Crown after beating Larkin 4-0. The Red Raiders had plenty of punch throughout the season with Mark Skonieczny (.376, 33 RBI), Matt Sullivan (.430, 23 RBI) and Tommy Kiriakopolous (.354, 27 RBI). However, Jakubowski is realistic about what offenses can do in a higher-level tourney.
“Obviously we want to score more runs, but at this level, past the regionals, it’s about having quality at-bats, taking a simple approach and squaring up to get it on the barrel,” Jakubowski said.
Facing a Prairie Ridge team led by senior first baseman Marcus Sargeant won’t be quite like playing the team Huntley beat twice in late April, 8-2 and 4-3. Prairie Ridge has won seven in a row and blanked McHenry (4-0) and Grant (1-0) in regional action.
Huntley’s own pitching hasn’t been weak, either. The staff took off after reliever Adam Kalish began starting games. Kalish is 6-0 with a 0.81 earned run average. Eric Luecht (7-2, 0.97) has the most innings, and Nick Costantino (7-1, 1.31) has been dominant.
“We found ways to get it done in regionals with very good pitching, didn’t make an error in either game, and had quality at-bats,” Jakubowski said.
Jacobs didn’t play Hononegah in the regular season, but beat most of the same squad last year in a sectional matchup. Murray expects to face pitcher Donovin Sims, the Northern Illinois recruit who is one of three Division I Hononegah players. The others are center fielder Adrian Marquez (Wright State) and pitcher Riley Pawelski (ISU).
“When we won last year we were able to get Sims out of the game,” Murray said. “It was a small-ball game for both of us, really, and we were fortunate enough to come out ahead. I expect the same thing.”
Jacobs is looking for a repeat of last year when it failed to win conference, but rolled to supersectionals. The Golden Eagles had the Valley lead most of this year after beating Huntley twice with a balanced lineup that includes Ben Murray (.383), Danny Vandewalker (.313, 23 RBI, three HR) and Grant Kale (.325, 23 RBI).
“I think our offense will be up to the challenge,” Jamie Murray said. “We beat Ahren Ludwig twice in five days and he’s as good a high school pitcher as I’ve seen from the left side in my years as head coach.”
Jacobs’ pitching staff is positioned well with ace Reilly Peltier (6-2, 1.02) rested after Brenden Weiss (3-1) beat Barrington in the regional finals.
“Reilly is an all-time favorite of mine in 19 years as a coach,” Murray said. “He’s an all-conference guy with a work ethic, who gets it and is going to succeed at the next level with McHenry [Community College] and then after that somewhere.”
Both Jacobs and Huntley are pursuing their second sectional titles. Huntley’s last came in 2010, when it finished fourth in the state.