NORMAL – Not every high school sports team receives the chance to play for a State championship on their home field. That is usually the sort of thing every player dreams about when the thought crosses their mind. But for Normal’s University High Pioneers, who were a number one seed, faced another number one seed, Freeburg, and wound up playing in the third place game after losing to the team nicknamed the Midgets at Duffy Bass Field on Saturday. As a result of that loss, the Pioneers found themselves playing for and placing third after a 7-5 win over Central State 8 foe Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin.

U-High 7, Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin 5 To Take 3rd Place: U-High (32-4) went to work early against the Cyclones with lead off batter Karson Bonaparte walking followed by being his being driven home by outfielder Chase Adams to start the scoring, 1-0, with a blast into center field for a double. A fielder’s choice helped Evan Jones get on base and later score courtesy of Jack Bach’s home run over the left field wall, putting the Pioneers up before SHG came to bat, 3-0.

U-High was able to add two more runs in the 4th inning courtesy of Matt Armstrong’s single sending Bach and Matthew Davenport across home plate for two more runs, putting U-High up, 5-0. Springfield SHG (cut that lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning when Jack Schafer’s single sent home Paul Gilmore who singled and Jayden Davis who walked. Those runs reduced U-High’s lead, 5-2.

The Pioneers advantage increased an inning later to 6-2 when Jones got on base and was singled in by Daniel Mosele. The Cyclones kept pace in that inning, too, adding three runs beginning the inning with Louie Bartletti’s leadoff walk, followed by singles from Nic Crowe and Gilmore, a walk given Jaydon Davis, and single by Schafer reduced U-High’s lead to 6-5. Senior Macallen Conklin led off the top of the 7th inning with a home run which cleared the left field wall.

Winning pitcher Chase Adams struck out eight and walked one in 4 2/3 innings of work.

“I wasn’t surprised about the heart our players showed that last game,” explained Pioneers head coach Steve Paxson, elaborating knowing they were playing for third place might have created a situation where his players’ effort might not have been what he did see throughout the contest. He said the team showed they put in what was needed to win the contest. “I’m just really proud to have coached this group. They’re really a special group.”

Five-Run 3rd Inning Puts Freeburg Over U-High, 5-3: Freeburg (35-3 following this game) employed a five-run third inning to overcome a Pioneers lead earlier in the semifinal contest to defeat the Pioneers, 5-3, to advance to the Class 2A Championship while sending the Pioneers to the 3rd place game to face the Cyclones. U-High scored two runs in the top of the 2nd inning as Evan Jones walked and advanced to 2nd base on a wild pitch. The next batter, Carson Beal, flew out to left field for the first out of the inning, and was followed by Mosele who doubled scoring Beale, putting U-High up, 1-0. A single by Davenport got Mosele home for U-High’s second run of the inning, giving the Pioneers an early 2-0 lead.

In the top of the 3rd inning, Adams would push U-High up, 3-0, on a single and stolen base followed a base hit by Macallen Conklin.

But Freeburg scored all five of their runs in the bottom of the third inning. The scoring barrage began as with one out, Austin York and Jacob Blomencamp led off the inning with a walk and single, respectfully, and then committed a double steal. From there, Colin Bruggemann singled, scoring the pair, cutting the Pioneers’ lead, 3-2. The next batter, Eli Hoerner singled deep into right field, and was followed by Eli Hill would be walked. The pair then committed a double steal and the bases were loaded when Hayden Ott singled completing the scoring.

NORMAL – It’s almost as if we have seen this before: University High’s Class 2A top seed boys’ baseball team powers through a single inning to get a number of runs to outpace an opponent. On Monday at Jack Horenberger Field on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus during their Super-Sectional game, an 8-run second inning helped power the Pioneers past 5th seed Ottawa Marquette, 9-2 and toward a State semi-final against another number one seed, Freeburg, for a Friday 1p.m. contest. That game will be held on U-High’s home field, Duffy Bass Field.

The winner of that contest would advance to IHSA Class 2A Championship to take on Duffy Bass Field with the winner of the other semifinal to be played Friday between top seed Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin and 2nd seed Elmhurst-based Timothy Christian. The championship also will be held at Duffy Bass Field starting at 7p.m.

But during Monday’s contest, after a scoreless 1st inning for both sides, the Pioneers (31-3 after this game) exploded for eight of the nine runs they needed to keep marching toward their goal of getting a game closer to a state championship. They managed to start by loading the bases courtesy of a single by sophomore first baseman Chase Adams’ single followed by senior center fielder MacCallan Conklin being walked by Crusaders starting pitcher Taylor Waldron. He was followed by left fielder Evan Jones to load the bases but those emptied quickly for a 3-0 lead when junior designated hitter Jake Swartz singled.

The next batter, senior shortstop Daniel Mosele walked and was followed by junior catcher Evan Kochel’s single, and was followed by a bunt single from senior right fielder Matthew Davenport, scoring two more runs putting U-High up, 5-0. Kochel, Davenport, and

third baseman Karson Bonaparte would get on base and add three more runs leading to 8-0 lead the Crusaders faced as they entered the bottom of the 2nd inning. U-High also was able to capitalize on a total of six errors Crusaders players made during the contest.

Ottawa Marquette got its first run in the bottom of the 2nd inning with senior left fielder Grant Waldron getting a single and advancing to second on a wild pitch from U-High’s starting and winning pitcher, Jake Swartz. After striking out the next batter, third baseman Brady Ewers, doubled. But the next batter, Hayden McKenna hit into a fielder’s choice and was followed by right fielder Jake Thomas who made the third out. Waldron rounded the bases during those actions, putting the Crusaders on the board trailing, 8-1.

Ottawa center fielder and lead off batter Nick Melvin singled and was the only other Crusaders player to score during the contest.

Ottawa Marquette finished the season with just a 17-3 record following this game due to players not being able to play due to contracting the COVID-19 virus.

About the number of runs U-High scored, head coach Steve Paxson explained, “Going into the post season, if we could score four runs, I felt our pitching would be able to hold it steady as long as we played solid defensively.”

Giving praise to his winning pitcher, Paxson added, “When you have a kid like Jake Swartz on the mound, it gives your team a lot of confidence.” He then posed a rhetorical question while praising his pitcher, asking, “If we could get to four runs, we would be in pretty good shape, and getting to 8 is more than a coach can ask for, right?”

Swartz ended the day with 14 strikeouts on the day and his coach said, “The first couple innings, he had a little juice – he was up to 92, 93 miles per hour the first couple innings. He actually got better after that because he was able to command breaking balls.”

As for playing State games on their own home field, Paxson said he mentioned to his players, “Wouldn’t that be great?,” and not that that’s the reality of the situation, Paxson said, “It just feels great that we’ll actually be able to do it.”

“You know, one of the worst feelings would have been to watch someone else play on our home field,” Paxson said, adding now that it will be the Pioneers who will do it, “This is the first time I can remember ISU holding a State tournament, so we feel really blessed and fortunate to get there because we had to beat some really good teams to get there.”

He credited the seniors on his team for “putting pressure on the defense by keeping the ball in play.”

Swartz, who is bound to attend and play baseball at University of Illinois, said seeding of the opposing team didn’t enter his mind, and he added about his effort against the Crusaders, “I knew I just had to pitch my own game and once I got a feel for my off-speed pitches, I kind of got going really well, and started commanding very well. Once I got my curve ball going, I kept them off-balance and it seemed to work.”

He added, “Going to State has been our goal all year, for sure, but getting there isn’t enough for us. We want to try our best to get the job done.”

“To win, we told our kids, we were going to have to play pretty flawlessly defensively and make some tough pitches and get some key hits,” explained Ottawa Marquette head coach Todd Hopkins. “But we didn’t do those three. The second inning was the back breaker, but we’ve been doing the same thing to other teams, too, capitalizing on their mistakes. But U-High was a tough team, and I’m sure they’re going to be a tough team on Friday.”

He added, “We knew the game wasn’t going to be too big for us, and it wasn’t. We had a bad second inning and that was the ball game.”

By Steve Robinson | June 13, 2021 - 10:24 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

NORMAL – For as much as the Normal CornBelters of the Prospect League tried to keep pace with their guests from Burlington and Quincy at The Corn Crib this past weekend, their opponents managed to score double-digits to leave the team with an 0-2 mark for the weekend, losing to league newcomer Burlington Friday, 10-6, and again to Quincy, 13-7 Saturday. The CornBelters closed out the weekend at 7-7 in the Great River Conference of the Western Division as a result of the weekend’s action.

Quincy Outpaces CornBelters Saturday, 13-7: New to the Prospect League, the Burlington Bees made sure the Normal CornBelters felt their scoring sting early and often, scoring 10 runs in the 2nd through 5th innings as they beat the CornBelters, 13-7, Saturday night.

A double by CornBelters first baseman Brennan Orf help shortstop Will Carpenter score giving Normal a fast 1-0 lead. Quincy scored three runs in the top of the 2nd inning led by a double by Trent Youngblood. His hit was followed infielder Matt Schark and a double by catcher Bryce Miller. Hits by leadoff batter Gino D’Alessio and Jackson Galloway allowed the Gems to have a 3-run inning, putting the Gems up, 3-1 after two innings and scored two more each in the 3rd and 4th innings, putting Quincy up, 7-1. In the bottom of the 4th inning, a home run into right center field by Orf cut Quincy’s lead scoring both Orf and right fielder Avery Owusu Asiedu cutting Quincy’s lead, 7-3.

A home run with two on by Quincy designated hitter Jake Skrine in the top of the 5th inning put Quincy up, 10-3. CornBelters center fielder Billy Gerlott singled and scored as the next batters hit out to fielders, cutting the Gems lead to 10-4 in the home half of the 5th inning.

CornBelters right fielder Will Carpenter singled and stole both second and third base before scoring making it home on an Orf base hit, reducing Quincy’s lead, 10-5 in the bottom of the 7th. The Gems would score two more in the top of the 8th inning, and a triple by Carpenter scored Gerlott for Normal (7-7 after Saturday’s games), but Quincy (5-10 as of Sunday) would score three more runs in the top of the 9th inning to wind up with the eventual final score. Bennett Stice was the winning pitcher for Quincy while Nate Gorczyca took the loss for the CornBelters.

Expansion Burlington Earns Friday Win Over ‘Belters, 10-6: A four-run 4th inning by Normal was countered by Burlington with four-run of their own Friday night at The Corn Crib as the visiting Bees beat the CornBelters, 10-6. A second inning home run by infielder Austin Simpson put the Bees on the board first for a fast 1-0 lead. Burlington (8-7 after Saturday’s games). The Bees added a run in the top of 4th inning when singles by infielders Austin Simpson and Kevin Santiago aided in scoring infielder Jackson Jones who got on base earlier, increasing the Bees’ lead, 2-0.

Normal scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning as outfielder Daniel Bolt led off with a double and was followed by a triple by Avery Owusu Asiedu scoring Bolt, 2-1. A single by designated hitter Alex Steinbach drove in Asiedu tying the score at 2-2. A single by Orf helped Steinbach push Normal in front, 3-2 and Normal went up 4-2 when Orf scored on a hit by infielder Andy Bunton. But an inning later, Burlington tied the game, 4-4 on a two-run home run by right fielder Jackson Jones with one on.

Asiedu scored again in the seventh inning after singling and scoring on a hit by Orf, overtaking the Bees, 5-4. The Bees added two runs including a home run by Burlington left fielder Marcos Sanchez in the top of the 8th inning, putting the Bees up, 6-5. Burlington would have four runs in the top of the ninth to go up, 10-5. The CornBelters’ final run would be the result of a lone home run by Bolt.

Garrett Langrell was the winning pitcher for Burlington with Normal’s Treyton Ruth taking the loss.

O’Fallon Visits Thursday, Doubleheader Against Burlington Here Friday: The CornBelters will have already played a doubleheader on the road at O’Fallon Wednesday and will be home to The Corn Crib Thursday to take on the Hoots in a 6:35p.m. contest. Friday, Burlington returns for a doubleheader starting at 5:35p.m. The CornBelters will finish the weekend with single games on the road at Cape Girardeau, Mo. Saturday and at Illinois Valley in Peru, Ill. Sunday.

By Steve Robinson | June 8, 2021 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

NORMAL – University High’s Class 2A top seed boys’ baseball team used a 5-run fifth inning to outmaneuver 4th seed Chillicothe IVC, 7-2, to advance to one step closer to a sectional championship. The midsection of the Pioneers batting order starred in the effort which helped head coach Steve Paxson’ crew advance to host a Wednesday home game against second seed Macomb. The winner of that contest will advance to the Sectional championship where they would face either Eureka or Knoxville. Chillicothe IVC suffered from 6 errors during the course of the game following getting their two runs in the contest

Left fielder Evan Jones led off for U-High (28-3) in the second inning, and advanced to score thanks to pitcher Jake Swartz and designated hitter Matthew Davenport to put the Pioneers up, 1-0. An inning later with two out, Pioneers shortstop Daniel Mosele scored after a base on balls to center fielder McAllen Conklin and a single to Jones getting him across home plate for a Pioneers 2-0 after three innings.

Shortstop Noah Chase got on base for Chillicothe (19-7) in the top of the 5th inning aided by a one-out walk to left fielder Brenden Adler and a daring double steal, cutting U-High’s lead, 2-1.

With one away in the bottom of the fifth inning, Conklin singled and advanced on a Chillicothe two-base error. That was followed by another hit by Jones and Pioneers pitcher Jake Swartz walking. The Pioneers would tally five runs total giving them a 7-1 lead.

The visitors cut the Pioneers lead to the eventual final score in the top of the sixth inning after leadoff batter Kam Wollard singled, stole second and scored on an error allowing him to advance from second to home.

Swartz pitched for 5 2/3 innings registering 9 strikeouts and a walk coming away with the win. Reliever Trevor Young came in and struck out two to close out the contest. IVC pitcher Keegan Rainey pitched 4 2/3 innings striking out three and walking four.

“My main plan was to come in and get ahead on batters, getting the first strike or two,” explained Swartz. Doing that, he explained, would allow him to use off-pitches once he had a two-strike count against batters.

“I wanted to establish a fast ball early on them,” he added, explaining, “I knew they had good hitters so I tried to mix it up a little bit. For the most part, just try to pound my fast ball in the strike zone and it worked.”

Chillicothe players and coaches exited the field quickly making them unavailable for comment following the game.

The Pioneers were scheduled to host second seed Macomb Wednesday afternoon at Duffy Bass Field.

By Steve Robinson | June 1, 2021 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

NORMAL – The Normal CornBelters of the Prospect League, after their first week, are just beginning to find their footing as the 2021 season begins. After all, 2020 wasn’t much for any of the league’s teams no thanks to COVID-19. They finished the first week of the new season at 2-2, dropping their season opener May 27 to Illinois Valley 6-0, beating Quincy, 8-4, and losing to newcomer Burlington, 13-2 May 28, and then taking that last loss out on Quincy again, 15-5, all at The Corn Crib.

‘Belters Come Up Empty Against Illinois Valley In Opener: Peru, Ill.-based Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp were the first guests for the 2021 season in The Corn Crib, but Pistol Shrimp center fielder Christian Merriwether lead off for his team, singled, stole second and scored thanks to a single from teammate Christian Garcia, putting Illinois Valley up, 1-0 to get the season going. They would add three more in the seventh inning and two more in the eighth inning while CornBelters batters’ attempts to get men on base and across home plate were foiled by their guests’ defensive efforts as the Pistol Shrimp marched to a 6-0 victory.

“It was just one of those games we weren’t able to get anything going early and their pitcher had a really good arm, and our guys really battled, and it’ll work itself out,” explained new CornBelters Manager Calvin Peacock afterward. From this point on, he said, “There will be a lot of moving parts, giving guys plenty of opportunities early and just kind of figure out how we want to roll for the rest of the season. But there’ll be a lot of moving parts.

“I was really impressed with our arms tonight, and our bats will come around,” Peacock said after the team’s first effort of the season.

Following his team’s first victory of the new season, Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Manager John Jakiemiec was just happy to get the game played as earlier in the day on May 27, rain showers gave players pause as to whether the game would even be played. “When we left the bus, we had some dejected spirits thinking the game was not going to happen,” Jakiemiec said.

Mike Brown Honored Before First Game: Prior to the game, Mike Brown, who had a part in founding the Kernels Collegiate League giving area players an opportunity to play when COVID-19 abruptly ended many college teams’ players’ seasons last year, was honored by the team and fans in attendance. Brown, a Lexington native, died April 21 at age 51. A brief ceremony honoring Brown was held just prior to the start of the CornBelters’ first game May 27. Bloomington-Normal Baseball Association has set up a Memorial Scholarship Fund in Brown’s name. Paul Thompson, BNBA Director, said the organization awards a number of scholarships which are presented in the spring.

Upcoming Schedule: Having played at Burlington Wednesday, the CornBelters will play a daily game with Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Thursday through Saturday, with a home game at The Corn Crib Friday starting at 6:35p.m. Burlington will visit for a single game Sunday. The team gets Monday off before playing at Cape Girardeau June 8-10, and returns home for two single games against Burlington Friday, June 11 and Quincy Saturday, June 12.