No. 3 Normal West rallies for walk-off win over Bloomington

By Drake Skleba
Senior Writer

NORMAL – Fear is a word that is not part of the vocabulary of the No. 3-ranked Wildcats of Normal West. Trailing Big 12 Conference co-leader Bloomington 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh and facing Purple Raider senior lefty Brandon Edwards, for most teams that would be a hill too high to climb.
Not the Wildcats. Normal West exploded for three runs, capped off by a walk-off triple from University of Illinois-bound Matthew James, scoring sophomore Reid Birlingmair to complete the 6-5 comeback victory. 

With the win, Normal West improves to 22-3 overall and 8-0 in the Big 12 Conference. Bloomington falls to 21-8 overall and 7-1 in B12 play.

Bloomington struck first in this Big 12 showdown on a ringing two-run single from Purple Raider Kent Frantz. Normal West answered with two runs on a sac-fly from James and a RBI single from junior Reed Rogers to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the first.

Normal West grabbed a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second on a Birlingmair RBI single. The left-handed hitting sophomore went 4-for-4 with two RBI and scored a run.

Bloomington tied the game in the fourth on a pair of Wildcat miscues on a ball off the bat of junior Nick Chapman, scoring courtesy runner Jayden Thompson with the tying run. Rogers came into relieve Normal West starter Missouri State-bound lefty Alex Jefferson with Purple Raider runners on first and third and retired the final two Raider hitters to preserve the tie.

“This was such a big game for us that I really worked hard at getting people out,” Rogers said. “I did a good job in the fifth to get us out of trouble. I had a good day at the plate and this was an awesome win for us. I can’t wait for Thursday.”

The game moved to the seventh and Bloomington went to work on Rogers, scoring two runs on four hits to grab a 5-3 lead. Edwards plated the lead run on a hard-hit ball to second, scoring senior Roman Visintine who led off the inning with a booming double.

Senior catcher Jacob Scogin plated another Raider run with a RBI single scoring Frantz who had singled. On the play sophomore Charlie Cerney was thrown out at third to end the inning.

The seventh for the Wildcats began with a line single to left from senior Josh Appel. Senior Tyler Ort was robbed of at least a double on a sensational catch from Frantz for the first out. Jefferson was plunked to put runners on second and third. Birlingmair ripped a first-pitch RBI single to right, his fourth of the game to bring the ‘Cats within 5-4.

“I was looking for a first-pitch fastball. I knew Edwards would come at me hard,” said Birlingmair. “I hit the ball hard to right and drove the run home. I have been really trying to stay back and not do that much at the plate. I have been seeing the ball very well lately.”

Western Illinois-bound catcher Adam McGinnis’ sac-fly scored the fleet-footed Jefferson with the tying run. Then James delivered the final blow when he hammered a shot that went all the way to the wall in right as Birlingmair streaked home with the game-winner.

“I was really pumped after Adam tied the game with the sac-fly,” James said. “I really concentrated on getting a hit in that spot. I didn’t think I was going to hit a walk-off triple to win the game but fortunately it turned out that way for me. This was such an emotional win for us. This was total team win and I’m really looking forward to pitching against Bloomington on Thursday.”

The two Big-12 powers will meet again in Bloomington on Thursday. James (8-0) will face off with Bloomington’s super-sophomore Charlie Cerney (6-0) at 4:30 at Starr Field in Bloomington. Last season the defending Big 12 champs from Bloomington defeated Normal West to win the outright Big 12 championship at Starr Field.

“When we went to the plate in the seventh, I told the kids that they were not to step in the batter’s box until they had convinced themselves that they were going to get a hit,” Normal West coach Chris Hawkins said. “Every one of them, including Tyler Ort who was robbed by Frantz, came through for us. Reid Birlingmair has hit for us all season so today’s performance wasn’t that much of a surprise. Matt made up for his mistakes earlier in this game with the walk-off triple. That’s how Matt is.”

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