Prep Baseball Report

No. 12 Normal West tops No. 13 Oak Forest

By Sean Duncan

OAK FOREST, IL – In a matchup of two of the state’s top Class 3A programs, No. 12 Normal West played a bit of Rope-a-Dope with No. 13 Oak Forest, waiting patiently for dominant ace Kyle Funkhouser to leave the game before the Wildcats moved into action.

Normal West scored three runs in the final two innings to notch a 3-1 road victory Saturday afternoon. Funkhouser, who was tuning up for the playoffs, threw four impressive innings, with his fastball sitting 91-92 mph throughout, climbing as high as 93 on one occasion.

“We just had to hang in there,” said Normal West coach Chris Hawkins. “I’ve seen Kyle for the last three years. I think it makes the kids better seeing that kind of pitching. … Four innings was plenty in my book.”

Trailing 1-0 in the sixth, Normal West (28-7) scored twice, courtesy of one hit and three Oak Forest (25-6) errors. Sophomore first baseman Reed Rogers laced a run-scoring single to left field. But when the Oak Forest left fielder allowed the ball to get past him, Garrett Cook raced around from first base to score. The Wildcats added an insurance run in the seventh on junior catcher Adam McGinnis’ RBI single.

Junior right-hander Nick Hieb (3-2) pitched well in relief to earn the victory. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Hieb yielded one hit in 3.2 innings, and struck out four, including two in the seventh, and walked two. Hieb’s fastball sat in the 82-84 range, reaching as high as 86 on one occasion.

“We’ve used Nick in different roles this season,” Hawkins said. “He showed some guts today and kept us in the game.”

Oak Forest, which tallied only four hits, took a 1-0 advantage in the first inning when catcher John Zubek led off with a single and eventually scored on sophomore first baseman Brian Richard’s sacrifice fly.

“We’re pretty good when Funk is on the mound,” said Oak Forest coach Thaddeus Gatton. “All season we’ve struggled hitting the ball. After 31 games, they’re still undisciplined at the plate.”

As far as Funkhouser was concerned, the Louisville recruit struck out six and walked one in his four innings. He yielded two hits, both to junior centerfielder Alex Jefferson, who led off the game with a single up the middle and a bunt hit.

“I had my good stuff today,” said Funkhouser. “I was only supposed to throw two. Usually I get stronger as the game goes on.”

Normal West, which was our preseason pick to win the Class 3A state championship, is still getting used to life without junior standout Matthew James, who’s been out four weeks with mononucleosis. James, a University of Illinois recruit who earned PBR All-State honors as a sophomore, has been an automatic victory on the mound for Normal West. The Wildcats are 6-1 without James in the lineup right now. Hawkins said it is unlikely that James will return for the Wildcats’ playoff run.

IL Top Prospect Showcase slide 6-14-12