Naperville Central pitcher Jack Skidmore didn’t take anything for granted Thursday.
The senior right-hander has heard all the clichés about the state playoffs — how the stakes get raised exponentially. But he wasn’t totally swayed by that type of thinking.
He just knows better.
“I had this mindset that it wasn’t just another game,” said Skidmore, who has committed to Lincoln Trail College. “You have to go out there and compete.
“Just like the other team, I went into the game with the realization that this could be the last game I play in high school.”
That end will have to wait for another day.
Skidmore struck out nine and allowed just two hits as the Redhawks rolled to an 11-2 win over West Aurora in a Class 4A Waubonsie Valley Regional semifinal.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Skidmore (7-1) only gave up two walks for second-seeded Naperville Central (22-6), which will play at 11 am Saturday in the championship game.
After missing his previous start due to some shoulder tightness, Skidmore looked fresh — and as dominant as ever. He also gained a bit of redemption.
In his varsity debut as a junior, Skidmore produced a superb season except for an uncharacteristically poor performance against Neuqua Valley in the regional final.
The Redhawks, who had entered as the top seed, were stunned at home.
And for Skidmore, the memory still stings.
“I have to remember that and I have to compete,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I pitched in that game.”
Most impressively, Skidmore was more scientific in his approach rather than simply being overpowering against West Aurora (7-20-1).
“For the first time this year, my change-up was really working well,” Skidmore said. “My curveball was also really moving.
“The biggest thing I learned from last year is that I am relying less on my fastball and relying more on my curveball and change-up.”
His off-speed material also lessened the strain on his shoulder.
Naperville Central coach Mike Stock said the 10-day layoff helped Skidmore regain his movement and get back to full strength.
“He’s knows how to take care of himself,” Stock said. “The game is really important to him seven days a week. He takes care of his body. Hey eats well. He does his workout.
“He is a self-motivated kid with a lot of talent.”
Skidmore also has the ultimate backup as a pitcher in being able to count on a machine-like Redhawks lineup that has been dynamic in providing run support.
Junior catcher Colin Barczi led the way Thursday, hitting two home runs and going 4-for-4 with six RBIs.
Junior DH Andrew Gallegos and sophomore infielder Michael Umbright also hit home runs and drove in two runs apiece.
Barczi, a Vanderbilt recruit, blasted both of his homers to deep left-center, with each ball traveling close to 400 feet.
“Left-center is my sweet spot — I was seeing the ball great,” Barczi said. “Jack Skidmore pitched a great game. Being up big really takes the pressure off your shoulders.
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“We could be a lot more relaxed out there.”
The prolific run scoring and Skidmore’s prowess meshed together well.
“As a pitcher, it’s indescribable when you have that much help in a close game,” Skidmore said. “I don’t have to worry if I give up a run.
“You have to realize your coaches are putting you out there for a reason, and I have some of the best players in the state on my team.”
Waubonsie beat Naperville Central three out of four times during the regular season, including a late comeback in the DuPage Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.
“They got us twice in the seventh inning this year,” Barczi said. “You have to be able to close out games and you have to want it.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.