Byline: David Oberhelman Daily Herald Correspondent
A right-handed power hitter steps in against Alex Roberti, Elgin Academy's left-handed fastballer.
"If he hasn't seen me before, my fastball tails away. So maybe start him high and inside, back him away a little bit. And then throw one middle of the plate-outside, so it'll tail, maybe catch the outside corner, and try to keep it low, keep it out of his wheel house. Maybe throw a curveball just to keep him off. But usually just keep it away and low. That's what's been working."
Roberti definitely has got it going for the Hilltoppers. Roberti began this season by pitching a 7-hitter against Hinckley-Big Rock. He then posted three straight 3-hitters before Saturday's 2-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 14-2 win over Morgan Park Academy, previously undefeated in Independent School League play.
He's tuned it up over an all-conference sophomore year in which he had a 5-1 record with a 2.40 earned run average. Entering Tuesday's game against North Shore Country Day the three-year varsity pitcher had five complete-game wins in his five starts, with an ERA of 0.70. Through 30 innings he had allowed only 18 hits and 13 bases on balls. He had struck-out 52 batters with a high of 16 in a 7-2 win over North Shore Country Day. Opponents had scored just seven runs against him, only three of them earned.
With 1995 ISL Player of the Year Chris Rehfield throwing from the right side and combining with Roberti for all of the Hilltoppers' eight wins, seven of them in the ISL where they own first place, Elgin Academy coach Ron Szumilas enjoys a situation that would make most of his peers envious.
"We have the luxury of having two very competent pitchers of our staff. Most of the time, a high school team will have just one that they can count on day-in and day-out."
Roberti took advantage of an early season opportunity not only to be staff stopper, but also to be one of Szumilas's three senior captains, along with Rehfield and all-conference catcher Mike Gatza.
"This year, Alex really asserted a leadership role early, when we came back from spring break," said Szumilas, in his third season with Hilltoppers. "Chris had taken an extended vacation down in New Mexico and wasn't available the first couple of days of practice. So Alex became my starting day pitcher, and he's just pitched one more game than Chris."
"I don't consider myself to be the No. 1 pitcher on the team," Roberti said. "It's more of me and him just rotating back and forth. ...I think we work well together."
White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson would say that Roberti's success is due to "Gasss!" No one really knows how hard the 17-year-old throws, but Roberti recalled being clocked at 75 mph when he was an eighth-grader, two years after picking up the sport.
"I just go up there and throw fastballs, try to place them," said …