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Baseball: Stagg sends Sandburg packing

Stagg's Max Strus pitches vs. Sandburg. | Paul Bergstrom~For Sun-Times Media

Stagg's Max Strus pitches vs. Sandburg. | Paul Bergstrom~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 24, 2013 2:02PM



After absorbing countless losses to Sandburg through the years, including some of the gut-wrenching variety during the postseason, Stagg exacted some revenge Wednesday against its District 230 rival.

The 13th-seeded Chargers, behind a gem of a pitching performance by Max Strus and key contributions from the bottom of its batting order, stunned No. 3 Sandburg 4-2 in a Class 4A Sandburg Regional semifinal.

The Chargers (18-18) advance to Saturday’s regional championship against the winner of Friday’s Providence-Brother Rice semifinal.

Strus, a key component during Stagg’s two victories over Sandburg during the basketball season, was masterful. The junior right-hander allowed six hits, walked one and struck out six during an 86-pitch gem.

“It’s always fun beating Sandburg,” Strus said. “It’s awesome. We beat them twice in basketball and now (Wednesday).”

The previous time the Chargers beat the Eagles (22-10) in the playoffs was in a regional championship game in 1995. Stagg assistant coach Mike Darrah was a senior on that Chargers team.

“It feels good,” Darrah said. “It was good to see a lot of alumni here watching us.”

Strus had the Eagles off balance all day, relying heavily on a nasty changeup. His lone mistake was serving up a belt-high offering to Alec Nelson (2-for-3), who deposited it over the center-field fence in the sixth inning. That brought Sandburg to within 3-1.

The Chargers got production throughout their order. Nick Nowak, the No. 8 hitter, contributed two hits and an RBI. Mike Rankin, the No. 9 hitter, came through with a run-scoring single in the second inning off Sandburg ace Bryan Pall that gave Stagg a 1-0 lead.

Stagg padded its lead in the third. Mike Farnin led off with a single to left and Steve Kubiak followed with a double into the right-center gap for a 2-0 advantage.

The Chargers extended the lead to 3-0 in the fourth. Sean Dwyer started the frame with a single and stole second. He moved to third on a nice piece of hitting by Nowak, who made a concerted effort to hit the ball to the right side. Dwyer then scored on a wild pitch.

Sandburg mounted a rally in the fifth. Singles by Adam Zehme and Justin Joy put runners on the corners with one out. Up to the plate strolled Indiana recruit Austin Cangelosi, representing the tying run.

After getting ahead 2-and-0, Cangelosi, with a team-high eight home runs, swung and missed at three straight changeups. Strus then got Dan Santiago to ground out, ending the threat.

“He’s a great hitter,” Strus said of Cangelosi. “I knew he could hit the fastball. I have faith in my changeup.”

Nelson’s homer leading off the sixth gave the Eagles some hope. Stagg got that run right back in the seventh when Nowak singled home pinch-runner Jack Duffner for a 4-1 lead.

“We’re just trying to stay relaxed and play our game,” said Nowak, a catcher. “It’s an amazing feeling beating Sandburg.”

The Eagles scored a run in the seventh, with Justin Joy’s sacrifice fly bringing home Zehme (3-for-3). Zehme and Nelson combined for five of the Eagles’ six hits on the day.

“They’re kid (Strus) did a great job of keeping us off balance,” Sandburg coach Jim Morsovillo said. “He took us out of our game plan. We just could never get that one hit that would give us some momentum.”



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