After scoring seven runs in the second the Red Dragons stopped the Cowboys.
By JOHN BUTERA
STRUTHERS -- A seven-run inning and a rare double play were the keys for the Niles High baseball team, as it defeated Chaney 7-4 in a Division II district semifinal game Thursday at Cene Park.
Trailing 7-2 in the fifth inning, Chaney pushed two runners home and was on the verge of a big inning when third baseman Chris Utterback turned in the game's biggest play.
Chaney (15-8) had runners on first and third with one out when the Cowboys' Ron Palowitz grounded to Utterback.
Utterback saw the lead runner heading to the plate when he faked a throw to the catcher.
Utterback then ran down the runner, turned and fired to third where shortstop Mike Ruscitti put the tag on the Cowboys' other runner.
"Chris has been a gem at third for us all year," Niles coach T.C. Guarnieri said, "and that's just the way he's played all season. That play was huge too, because Chaney really had something going."
Utterback added, "That was really a big momentum switch."
Just moments before the double play, Utterback had taken a sharp hit to the face on a ground ball.
"There's a lip on that field that really comes up bad," Utterback said. "I saw that before the game, and I saw that play coming the whole way."
Niles (14-6) sent 12 batters to the plate in the second inning and ended up scoring seven runs on six hits. The inning included three stolen bases. Utterback batted twice in the frame, starting the uprising with a single and later driving home a pair of runs with a single.
Joe Skocik stole home during the rally and Kevin Robertson doubled in a run with the Red Dragons' lone extra base hit of the game.
Jeff Shaffo got Chaney rolling in the third with the first of his two doubles as the Cowboys pulled closer at 7-2.
Then came Chaney's fifth inning. Shaffo started with a double and Aaron Boris reached on an error. After one out, Dave Baco hit a shot to Utterback. Both Shaffo and Boris scored before Utterback's fielding gem.
Boris turned in a fine mound effort, relieving in the third. He yielded two singles the rest of the way.
Claar pitches win
For Niles, Jeff Claar (5-2) went the distance, scattering six hits while fanning seven. Claar admitted the big lead helped.
"It gave me a chance to be a little more relaxed," he said. "I just had to make them hit my pitches, basically. Now we've got a chance to go further, no matter who pitches."
Guarnieri added, "Jeff hasn't had a chance to pitch with that kind of a lead. That gave him a chance to adjust to the hitters."