NORMAL – Normal Community West High School stunned undefeated Bloomington High School in the first quarter of their Big 12 Conference contest by scoring 10 unanswered points in the opening quarter while their defense managed to hold the Purple Raiders scoreless in the first and fourth quarters en route to a 17-14 victory before roughly 1,500 fans at Wildcat Field Friday night.

Part of the credit for BHS’ remaining scoreless in the last stanza needed to go to junior defensive back Gavin Tellor, who dove to make an interception at Normal West’s 9 yard line with 44 seconds left in the game, staving off a potential victory by the visiting squad.

The victory handed BHS, who had started the season off by surging to a 3-0 start, a first loss of the season. Normal West (3-1 Big 12 and overall) scored on their first possession of the contest, a 17 yard pass from junior quarterback Carson Camp to senior wide receiver Magnus Moeller, followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald. That gave the Wildcats a fast 7-0 lead, at the 8:25 mark

BHS (3-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) saw their first possession of the contest end in a turnover of the ball to the Wildcats on downs at West’s 12 yard line. From there, the home team marched 88 yards on 12 plays ending in a Theobald 25 yard field goal, increasing West’s advantage, 10-0, with 14.7 seconds left in the opening quarter.

BHS got on the scoreboard thanks to senior quarterback’s first faking left before going up the middle for a 1 yard running touchdown at 3:14 in the second quarter followed by freshman kicker Jack Weltha’s extra point. That allowed Normal West to hold a 10-7 edge going into halftime, and to receive the ball to start the second half.

BHS opened the third quarter by holding the ball for nearly six minutes as they marched down field toward a concluding 2-yard scoring run by senior running back Holden Snyder at the 6:31 mark. That was followed by Weltha’s extra point, putting the Purple Raiders in front, 14-10. It was a lead that would stay in place going into the fourth quarter.

BHS was a minute and three seconds into their drive when the fourth quarter began from their own 11 yard line but three consecutive flags against the Purple Raiders and an incompletion forced them to punt the ball back to Normal West, where they began their next drive from their own 11. Thirteen plays later, sophomore wide receiver DeAris McQuirter scored from 8 yards out, capping an 89 yard march for a touchdown, putting Normal West in front, 17-14, following Theobald’s extra point.

Referring to Tellor, Normal West head coach Nate Fincham explained to reporters after the contest the 5 foot-8, 150 pound junior had sustained what his coach called “a pretty serious knee injury during the off-season.”

“We didn’t know what we were going to get out of him, and so he’s been kind of a huge surprise for us,” Fincham said. “That’s just because we didn’t know how he was going to recover from the knee injury. “He’s done a great job of working his way into the rotation to begin with.” As a result of his hard work, Tellor, Fincham explained, “Now, he’s become a starter and someone we rely on.”

As to how the Purple Raiders handled his team, Fincham said he had to credit BHS with “made some adjustments and were double- and triple-teaming Armani at times, so other people made plays,” referring to senior wide receiver Armani Forrest.

“I have to give BHS all the credit in the world,” Fincham added. “They were able to hold us in check for most of the game and luckily for us, we were able to get the victory.”

“If you hold Normal West to 17 points, you’re supposed to win,” said first season BHS head coach Scott Godfrey. “We settled down after that first drive or two after we got used to seeing their no huddle and hurry up. I think our defense settled in and I couldn’t ask anything more from them.

“We didn’t want any big plays from Normal West,” Godfrey added. “We kept the ball in front of us and we just didn’t let Armani Forrest just run wild. That was a big thing we were trying to do.”

NORMAL – Neither Normal Community West High School nor home team Normal Community High School were blowing smoke at each other in the days leading up to the annual “Chili Bowl” rivalry game held on Ironmen Field Aug. 31, but a student activity designed to have a little fun to start the game nearly kept fans from seeing Normal West’s first score of the game.

But NCHS saw a clear path to victory in the first meeting between these two teams in a season where both sides had new coaches, as the Ironmen outpaced the Wildcats, 49-27 before roughly 2,500 fans. As a result of the victory, NCHS holds a 17 wins to 6 advantage on the Wildcats in the series.

As Wildcats junior running back Aimry Schieler recovered the football after a scramble of an NCHS fumble 10 seconds into the contest, students in NCHS’ front rows of the student section tossed pink-colored baby powder in the air which blocked some fans’ and the media’s view of the play. What some fans missed as a result was Schieler scoring on a 27 yard run. That was followed by an extra point by senior kicker Parker Theobald, putting West up, 7-0.

Senior running back Dishon Hall’s 9 yard touchdown reception of a pass from senior quarterback Daylen Boddie tied the game at 7-all at 9:35 in the first quarter after senior kicker Josue Nsukami’s extra point.

Senior wide receiver Connor Lay closed out the scoring in the first quarter first, with a 15 yard run but Nsukami saw his extra point blocked by the Wildcats’ front line. However, NCHS led 13-7. After Normal West (1-1) punted to finish the next series of downs, Lay scored from 7 yards out to complete five play, 59 yard march for the Ironmen’s next score with 1:49 left in the quarter. Lay’s touchdown, followed by a two-point run by Boddie gave NCHS (2-0) a 21-7 lead going into the second quarter.

Boddie starred in the second quarter scoring twice before halftime. First, from 19 yards out to top a 9 play, 63 yard march, followed by another Nsukami extra point, putting NCHS up, 28-7 at the quarter’s 8:27 mark. Then, after an interception by senior defensive back Myles Doggan disrupted West’ next drive, Boddie scored again, this time from five yards out, followed by Lay’s two-point conversion, putting NCHS up, 36-7 with 2:22 until halftime.

West went 75 yards on five plays to score on the ensuing drive, with junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez scoring from 12 yards out on a pass from Camp followed by Camp kicking the extra point, cutting the Ironmen’s lead, 36-14, with 1:07 until halftime.

West’s turnover on downs following the second half kickoff gave NCHS the ball at their own 24 and three plays later, partly due to a rushing the passer call against West, Boddie scored on a 40 yard keeper play followed by Nsukami’s next extra point, putting NCHS up, 43-14 with six minutes until the end of the third quarter.

West tried a little diversionary tactic with a direct snap to senior running back Davion McQuirter who ran from two yards out for a score followed by a failed two-point try, reducing NCHS’ lead, 43-20, with 8:59 left in the contest.

From there, each team would have a series of downs, NCHS’ ending in a punt while Normal West’s resulted in a turnover on downs. When NCHS got the ball back as a result, they went 61 yards on four plays for their last score on the night, Boddie’s fourth touchdown on the night from 4 yards out. But NCHS (2-0) held a 49-20 lead despite West defenders managing to block the extra point.

West junior backup quarterback Delane Matthews saw action toward the end of the contest scoring from 12 yards out followed by another Theobald extra point.

Following the initial Wildcats score that opened the game, NCHS head football coach Jason Drengwitz explained, his team kept their cool, both players and coaches, appearing not to be rattled by their opponent’s quick opening score. Assessing the remainder of the contest, Drengwitz said, “Defense played well, we put a lot of points on the board, gave us a cushion, we took care of the football.”

He added he “couldn’t have been happier with how the half went after West’s opening score. After that, he said, “Our defense played well, we put a lot of points on the board and gave ourselves a cushion, and took care of the football.”

“Normal is a very good football team and we just have to come out and take care of the ball a little bit better and execute a little better on both sides of the ball,” Normal West head coach Nathan Fincham explained. “Boddie is just a really good football player and tough to stop.”

NCHS will play host to Urbana Friday while Normal West visits Danville. Both games start at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | August 25, 2018 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – As they are for any team’s opening game, thoughts of a positive season were on the minds of players, coaches, and fans alike when University High took to the Hancock Field turf against Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin in a Central State Eight season opening matchup.

But at the 9:16 mark in the fourth quarter, with the Cyclones up 42-0, the cheering stopped and the stadium was silent as fans watched trainers for U-High and then paramedics attend to sophomore wide receiver Savion Jackson who was knocked unconscious during a kickoff return. At first, there were murmurs in the crowd and then complete silence as fans watched the 5 foot-10, 165 pound Savion being worked on. From the time trainers and paramedics got to Jackson to the time he was wheeled off the field, roughly 20-25 minutes passed. Once Jackson was headed to the ambulance on a stretcher, fans could be heard applauding the young man.

Some U-High students cried and held one another from the time Jackson was first attended to and continued doing so even after the game had been called and the ambulance left the stadium. Frustration and grief had some Pioneers players starting back toward the school building located at the corner of Main and Gregory Streets, but they were corralled by assistant coach Mike Troll who ordered them to stay on the field for a message from head coach John Johnson, and Troll added they needed to walk back to the school as a group.

“He woke a couple of times,” Johnson said about Jackson during that post game talk. “His vitals are very good. He’s going to be okay. Guys, we lost a football game, but that’s just a bunch of light bulbs on a board. We’ve got to play for Savion from here on out, right…?”

“He’s going to be back, he’s going to fine, he’s going to be okay,” Johnson added as he spoke to his players, many of whom were either sobbing or wiping away tears and putting arms around one another.

Following his talk with his players, Johnson told reporters Jackson “jerked and convulsed twice which was a good sign because he was breathing.”

As for the game itself and their opponents, “Like I told the kids, they’re strong up front on both sides of the ball.”

Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin (1-0 in Central State Eight, and overall), ranked third in Illinois High School Association Class 6A, held that 42-0 lead which stood at the point in the game when Jackson’s injury occurred. Once Jackson regained consciousness and was asked questions by medical personnel and was secured to a gurney, a public announcement was made that the game was over.

The Cyclones scored three times in the first quarter, stunning the Pioneers home crowd, starting with a five yard touchdown run by senior running back Joey Milbrandt, followed by an extra point by senior kicker Cade Holloway, giving the visitors a quick 7-0 lead. The Cyclones would score twice more in the quarter, allowing them to go into the second quarter with a 21-0 lead, which they extended to 28-0 at half, and 35-0 after three quarters.

Springfield SHG head coach Ken Leonard had nothing but complimentary things to say about how U-High played against them. “I thought U-High’s secondary did a good job,” he explained. “I thought they tackled well. As a team, they made us work for it because they hung tough.” The loss left U-High with an 0-1 mark overall and in conference play.

By Steve Robinson | July 22, 2018 - 10:38 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

A 12th round selection in the 2015 draft following some college experience, Normal CornBelters first baseman Chris Iriart signed on with the Oakland A’s. But after playing in their system for three seasons, Oakland management cut him loose during spring training as this season was starting.

“Right after I got released, I talked to my agent who got me here,” the 23-year-old said about how he wound up playing at The Corn Crib this season. “I didn’t ask him many details because I trusted he’d get me somewhere good.”

A Chino, Calif. native, Iriart said he didn’t believe at first that such a place as Normal, Ill. existed until he and his father drove out to see it for themselves.

His introductory appearance in the Frontier League All-Star Game earlier this month showed fans why Normal signed him, as he went 2-for-3, smacking a home run and a double.

About his prior experience, Iriart said, the A’s organization “teaches the game from the ground up on fundamentals like defense to base running, and every other aspect of the game. They’re pretty thorough on developing players so I’d say I’d learned a lot from my coaches.”

Within the A’s system, he has suited up with teams from coast-to-coast – from Vermont, a member of the New York-Pennsylvania League to Stockton, Calif. to Beloit of the Midwest League.

And if any of his previous teams saw his present stats, they would probably be wondering why they let him get away. Currently, Iriart leads the Frontier League in home runs. As of Monday, he had 16.

About trying to find his way back to the minors, Iriart said, “What I learned from the A’s helped, and this off-season, I made some adjustments with my swing. I believe in my ability, so now, I just have to show the people they can’t deny the numbers. My goal is to put good enough numbers up to where they can’t deny it.”

About his time at The Corn Crib, Iriart said, “I love coming out here every day to compete every night. It’s just a blessing to play the game each and every day.”

CornBelters Manager Billy Horn praised Iriart for being the league leader in home runs. “He has a lot of power and is a really great kid,” Horn said. His manager added he’s working, as he does with all his players who have been there previously, to get Horn back into organized baseball.

Road Trip Upcoming: Following the league-imposed Monday off, the CornBelters got back on the bus for a three-game series at Florence, hoping three wins would help the CornBelters to hopscotch into third place. Next Friday through Sunday, July 27-29, Horn’s team is home at the Corn Crib for a three-game series against the Gateway Grizzlies. Friday and Saturday starts are at 7:05p.m., and Sunday’s first pitch is at 6:05p.m.

By Steve Robinson | July 14, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

The Normal CornBelters sent six players to the Frontier League annual All-Star Game at CarSheild Stadium in O’Fallon, Mo., home of the River City Rascals, but only one of those players – right fielder Derrick Lawless – saw action from first pitch to final out.

The game’s teams were divided a little differently other that by what division their home team belonged to. This year, the league billed the two sides as Rookies versus Experienced Players. And Lawless, having been through the minor league system of the Toronto Blue Jays, showed plenty of experience, hitting two home runs to help the Experienced squad win the game, 8-3.

“When we took the infield for the All-Star Game, our side only had four outfielders, so two of us would be playing a full game,” Loveless said of his most recent All-Star contest. “I wound up playing right field the entire game.” Not only did he shine in the outfield, but at bat, too, hitting two homers out of the park. This was his second such All-Star event, having played in the Midwest League’s mid-season affair.

If Lawless’ performance startled fans, they were not alone. “I was actually startled about that myself,” Lawless said, explaining he had only done that a couple of times his whole career.

The 25-year-old started his playing career in 2011 in the Toronto system until he was released at the start of this season when he didn’t get resigned and did some job hunting which didn’t see any offers from other teams materialize. But a player friend of his put him in touch with CornBelters manager Billy Horn to see if there was the possibility of playing here.

Coming to Normal wasn’t foreign to Lawless and not just because it’s within driving distance of his native Solon, Iowa, near Iowa City. But rather, his familiarity with Normal comes from having participated in a baseball showcase event at The Corn Crib when he was 17.

Lawless said his faith is helping him through his wait to get back into the minor league system. “God is a big part of my life and if it’s meant for me to go back into the minor leagues, I’ll put in the hard work and enjoy the time that I’m here.”

“I definitely hope that if I get looked at, teams will know ‘he’s a guy who knows what he’s doing and does it every day’ and hope it pays off,” Lawless said.

When he was in the Toronto system, Lawless played in six different cities, including with the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League, an opponent of the Peoria Chiefs.

“When I came to Normal, I was just expecting a good crowd of people who love to come and watch baseball being played,” he explained.

Loveless and his wife of 2 ½ years, Ashley, live in another minor league baseball hub, Durham, N, C. and have a 5-month-old son, Derrin.

Statistically, just before games played July 15, Lawless has appeared in 49 games, had 54 hits including 5 home runs, 8 doubles, and 3 triples in 178 at-bats while playing for Normal. That has given him a .303 batting average. In addition, he has driven in 24 runs, been hit by a pitch once, and struck out 46 times.

Loveless said he has tried through actions moreso than words to show his teammates what they should do to get to the minors. If he gives advice at all, it would be “to learn from any failures you might experience,” he continued. “If you don’t learn from it, those failures could be repeated.”

Of Loveless, his current manager said, “He should still be in an organization’s system. There’s no doubt about it.” Horn said he has managed to interest 15 teams in Lawless, but those teams currently have full rosters, so it now a waiting game to see where a spot opens up. Horn added that since the annual draft in June, it takes teams about a month and a half or slightly longer to start thinking of making moves which would involve calling out for players if drafted players don’t pan out with some clubs.

“We’re just hoping Loveless gets picked up any day here and off he’ll go,” Horn said.

Until that day comes, the CornBelters and their fans are glad to have Lawless here.

Road Trip Upcoming: Earlier this week, Eastern Division leader Washington visited The Corn Crib to try to stay atop their division while attempting to spoil Normal trying to gain ground in the Western Division. Friday through Sunday, the CornBelters are at Schaumburg. Following the league-imposed Monday off, the road trip continues with Normal visiting Florence. As of Sunday, Florence was holding on to fourth place in the Western Division four games out behind division leading-River City. The CornBelters are were in fifth place 5 ½ games behind River City.

The CornBelters will be back at The Corn Crib on July 27-29 for a three-game homestand against Gateway Grizzles.