By Steve Robinson | May 26, 2019 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, Pekin HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – It can easily be said Normal Community West High School baseball fans are used to getting to playoffs en route to trying to make it to State. But when 4th seed Pekin put five runs on the board to go in front of the 2nd seed Wildcats at Saturday’s Sectional title contest, while the fans may have been nervous about it, Wildcats head coach Chris Hawkins wasn’t.

“We really weren’t frightened by this because we’ve won 29 games and been down before,” Hawkins said afterward. And the Wildcats had to come back from behind again in order to beat Pekin Community High School, 8-5, to take the Illinois High School Association Class 4A Regional Title at Wildcat Field May 25.

But while Normal West rallied to win, they won’t see Unit 5 rival Normal Community High School for the Sectional title. Top seed NCHS lost to 3rd seed Moline in the other Regional contest Saturday, 5-3. That put Normal West facing Moline in a Sectional Semifinal at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Jack Horenberger Field on May 29.

After leadoff batters went down in order for Pekin (15-9), Normal West pitcher Will Collinson led off the bottom of the first with a base hit, followed by an error that put center fielder Will Kafer on second and allowed Collinson to score, giving Normal West a 1-0 lead. Designated hitter Brandon Roth was hit by starting pitcher Brandon Antonio to put Wildcat men on first and first and second. Roth rounded the bases for a 2-0 lead due to Pekin errors as Wildcats Cody Hardt and C. J. Lewis hit into the outfield for outs.

Pekin scored three in the top half of the 4th inning on a single by leadoff man Cole Russell and walks of shortstop Max Jones and Nathan Righi and single by left fielder Chase Roepenack, putting the Dragons in front, 3-2. A solo blast over the center field wall by Wildcats first baseman Evan Hutson to start the bottom half of that same inning tied the game at 3-3. West shortstop Alec McGinnis singled, advanced to second on a hit by catcher Brennan Dietrich and stole third before scoring to put the Wildcats up, 4-3.

Pekin added two more runs in the top of the 5th inning courtesy of a Righi single which scored Isaac Chapman and a double by first baseman Evan Pogioli which scored Russell, putting Pekin up, 5-4, as Normal West enter the bottom of the fifth. Kafer and Roth led off the Wildcats’ half of the fifth being walked before a single by Hardt scored Kafer, tying the game at 5-all, and a Hutson hit scored Roth, giving the Wildcats a 6-5 lead. With one out, singles by Hutson and McGinnis allowed Roth and Hardt to cross the plate for the final runs of the game.

The contest was riddled with errors committed by both sides, but the Dragons’ 5 mistakes outpaced the two committed by the Wildcats. Collinson was the winning pitcher while

Being down “really didn’t frighten us because we’ve been down before,” Normal West’s Hawkins said afterward. He added that having not lost a game since March, he didn’t have to worry about players’ morale on the bench when they were down to the Dragons. “I simply told them, ‘we’ve lost the first half of the game, so, let’s go win the second half.’”

“What we saw from Normal West today was the same team we have always seen when we play them,” Pekin head coach Larry Davis said, elaborating he didn’t see anything different in how the Wildcats played against his team this time. “His pitcher stayed with it and fought through some adversity.

“It was an ugly game with five errors and only four hits,” Davis added. “If you had told me we had four hits and five errors, I’d say we got our head kicked in, but we didn’t.”

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