No sooner had Oak Creek baseball coach Scott Holler started talking up Doran Turchin's hitting than the junior shortstop hit a little slump this week.
Until, that is, the seventh inning of tonight's pivotal Greater Metro Conference game at archrival Franklin.
With the bases loaded and none out in a 2-2 game, Turchin turned on a Kyle Cortez 0-2 fastball and rocketed it over the leftfield fence at Franklin's Jim Hughes Field for a grand slam home run and a 6-2 victory for the Knights.
"I'd seen a lot of pitches (on the night) and then the light went green and I was able to hit a shot," said Turchin. "We needed a clutch hit in that spot and that was a clutch hit.
"...We just believed it was a matter of time (before someone got a big hit)."
With the win, the Knights kept pace with red-hot Brookfield Central in the GMC race, improving to 11-1 in league play and 13-2 overall while the hard-luck and injury-prone Sabers fell to 4-7 and 5-12, respectively.
"That's the story of our year," said Franklin coach Jim Hughes. "We make a mistake and it multiplies. We don't hit well enough to overcome a lot of mistakes so we have to do all the little things right.
"Still, they're (the Knights) a really talented team and we kind of play to the level of the teams we're playing. We played at their level for six innings and then down for one."
The game had been interesting from the get-go and it got very intriguing in the sixth. Oak Creek was up 2-1 when the Sabers' Nick Pescheck opened the frame with a flare single against Oak Creek starter and winner Jesse Sustachek.
Austin Meyer than followed that with a perfect bunt single and the Sabers were in business. But the edge was taken off the potential rally when Oak Creek catcher Steve Stillwell made a brilliant diving catch of Joe Fortman's fouled bunt attempt for the first out.
"That may have been the play of the game," said Knight coach Scott Holler. "It's that quarterback's mentality of his (Stillwell was the starter for Oak Creek's football team in the fall at that position). He's just so focused."
Stillwell had also thrown out a would-be Sabers' base-stealer in the fourth.
But the rally wasn't over yet. After Sustachek picked up his eighth strikeout of the game, the Sabers' Sammy Harmeyer fought off several pitches and sent a bloop into left-center that found ground and scored Pescheck with the tieing run.
Holler blamed himself for that hit as he said he had second-guessed himself on the pitch call.
But the Sabers' momentum would-be short-lived. Sustachek got a ground-out to end the inning and then his offense went to work.
Cortez (three strikeouts and four walks) walked the Knights' Ryan Farr to start the Oak Creek seventh. Lead-off hitter D.J. Ellifson then followed that with a bunt that was thrown into the dirt at first and resulted in runners at second and third.
Knight co-captain Matt Hargreaves, who had doubled home the Knights' first run in the fifth tieing the score at 1-1, then reached on a dropped third strike. At that point, the bases were loaded and the stage was set for Turchin.
Holler loves how Turchin leads the team by example.
"I had a feeling tonight that if he would go three or four at bats (without a hit) that he would be due," said Holler. "This was also one of the first games we've played where the wind was not blowing in.
"It was blowing a touch out tonight, not that it mattered with that ball, he crushed it."
Hughes said that he liked the way Cortez was battling throughout the game (he had stranded Knight runners without a score in each of the first four innings).
"That's why I left him in," said Hughes. "I wanted to give him a chance to finish it. That (the home run) was just a mistake. He actually deserved better."
Sustachek gave up a lead-off single in the seventh, but then Turchin started a 6-3 doubleplay, the second of the night for Oak Creek (Sustachek had started a 1-6-3 effort in the fifth). A fly out to left ended the game.
The injury-prone and pitching thin Sabers did welcome the return of third baseman Mike Davis, who was lost for a time with an appendix problem. He made several nice plays on the night.
"They (the Knights) have a really good team, we enjoy these games because it's always a battle," said Hughes.
Holler liked his senior-co-captain Sustachek's tenacity tonight.
"He did a really nice job of hitting his spots with two strikes (in the count)," Holler said. "When he needed to make a good pitch, he did and he was still throwing pretty well at the end."
It marked the third win for Sustachek over the Sabers in the last two years including a victory in the GMC tourney title game last season and a 5-0 decision on June 2.
"I was able to locate my fastball most of the night and I was also able to get my curveball over too," said Sustachek.
And how happy was he to see Turchin's home run?
"I came sprinting out of the dugout," laughed Sustachek.
Turchin, who had knocked in the go-ahead run at the time for the Knights with a sac fly in the fifth, was happy to oblige.
"This is always a good game," said Turchin. "They're our number one rival for a reason. ...and expectations are sky-high this year. We have a lot of young guys on the team but they're up here for a reason. No one is playing for themselves.
"Everyone is playing for the team."
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