It was a long, four-day road to the quarterfinals for the second-seeded St. Charles Catholic baseball team, but the Comets arrived in style.
Comets starter Evan Pfister retired the final 10 batters in order as No. 2 seeded St. Charles held on for a 3-2 series-clinching victory over No. 15 Sterlington in the final game of a Class 2A regional series at John Ryan Stadium on Monday morning.
“It means everything,” St. Charles catcher Brady Newman said. “We’ve been talking about it since we were in eighth grade. We’ve just got to keep working hard.
The series began Friday with a 5-1 Panthers victory, but the Comets came back Saturday morning to win 4-2 before the weekend rains postponed Game 3 until 9:10 a.m. Monday.
“We’ve been focused all week even with the rain,” Newman said. “We got up early and went and hit. We just keep putting in extra work. Getting off the bus, we knew we had to start fast, and we did that.”
The Comets (26-8) advance to host No. 7 Holy Savior Menard (23-6) in a best-of-three quarterfinals series beginning Friday.
Pfister was impressive on the mound as he allowed two runs on six hits in 90 pitches for the complete-game victory. He didn’t issue a walk and retired the final 10 Panthers in order after allowing two runs in the fourth.
“I knew I had a good defense behind me, so I knew if I knew strikes that they’d have my back,” Pfister said. “I worked a lot on location because if I left it up, they’d hit it. I just hit my spots. This is just a feeling that I can’t even explain. It’s exciting.”
St. Charles coach Wayne Stein said his team showed its mettle.
“I think (Sterlington) is a top-eight baseball team, and I think this is a series that should have been played next week,” he said. “Evan was very strong. I think he settled in after the fourth. He was tired. He was out of gas, but he focused in. In the fifth, I told my coaches ‘Don’t let me put him back out there in the sixth,’ and then he got 1-2-3 in the fifth. The whole thing after the fifth was if they got one guy on, (Brennan) Gilberti was in, but Evan just kept retiring them.”
After Pfister got a sharp groundout to third as the game resumed with two outs and one on in the top of the first, the Comets did all their offensive damage in the bottom of the inning.
St. Charles loaded the bases, thanks to two walks and an error, to open the inning. Justin Ory drove in a run with a groundout, and Brady Newman’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0. A third run scored on a passed ball as the Comets took a 3-0 lead without registering a hit.
Sterlington (15-12) rallied in the fourth as Dalton Dopson was hit by a pitch with one out. Devon Murphy followed with a single and Brooks Rushworth’s RBI single scored the first run. Auston Smith cut the lead to 3-2 with his RBI single, but Pfister got Tucker Allen to ground out to end the inning.
Luke Denmon took the loss, lasting just 0.2 innings allowing three runs on three walks. Three Panthers pitchers held the Comets to two hits. Offensively, Murphy went 2-for-3 with a run scored while Smith was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Sterlington starts just one senior, so Panthers coach Mark Sims said his young squad will learn from the experience.
“Walking the guys early hurt us,” Sims said. “There is no excuse for it. We just had one bad inning, and we hit it at them all day. We had guys on, and they make some plays. That’s baseball. They got two hits and scored three runs. We just couldn’t get one to fall, but we’re going to learn from this.”