Prep Baseball Report

Normal West's Late Rally Stuns No. 4 Champaign Central

By Drake Skleba
Senior Editor

Wednesday April 29, 2015

Normal West scored five times in the bottom of the sixth, to rally past No. 4 Champaign Central 11-7 on the West Side of Normal on a beautiful Central Illinois Wednesday afternoon. Normal West (16-6-1, 7-1) junior catcher Mitch Fairfield had a pair of doubles for the Wildcats and drove home four runs, three on his bases-clearing double in the sixth, for the ‘Cat game winner. With the win, the Wildcats move into first place in the Big 12 Conference. Champaign Central (19-2, 6-1) suffers its first Big 12 defeat of the season.

In a battle between the top two clubs in the Big 12 Conference, Champaign Central and Normal West were deadlocked at 7-7 in the bottom of the sixth. Normal West had just scored the tying run on errant pick-off throw of Wildcat courtesy runner Dave Watson. For two consecutive innings the fleet-footed courtesy/pinch runner was a major concern for Champaign Central pitchers. Watson was pinch running for pinch-hitter Sam Fisher, who had coaxed a walk off of Champaign Central’s Tanner Gordon (4-1). Nate Beal’s bunt single moved the speedy Watson to second base. Gordon wheeled in an attempt to pick off Watson and fired the ball into centerfield. Watson raced home with the tying run.

Another bunt single, this time by Cody Rogers (1-for-2, SF, 3 RBI) and a walk to Evan Mucciolo, loaded the bases for junior catcher Mitch Fairfield. In the third inning, Fairfield’s booming two-out RBI double, gave the Wildcats a 3-1 lead. Central brought in senior Zach Dorner to face the dangerous Fairfield. With two strikes Fairfield hammered a shot over the centerfielder’s head, plating all three base runners for a 10-7 lead.

“It was a great team victory for us against a great team,” Fairfield said. “I was facing a new pitcher and took a couple of pitches to see what he had. I got one I liked and it was great to get the big three-run double. I had a good day at the plate. It helps that my team has confidence in me. Just a great day for all of us.” 

Arion Worthman added a Wildcat insurance run, when he crushed an RBI double to conclude the scoring in the sixth. Sophomore right-hander Peyton Dillingham (2-0), after a 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief of Wildcat starting pitcher Reid Birlingmair, put two Maroon base runners on with two out before ending the game with a flourish by striking out the last Maroon batter on a 3-2 pitch. Earlier in the inning, Rogers made a spectacular diving catch in left field, for the second out of the inning.

“They're a good team and we did a great job to beat them today,” Dillingham said. “I had a good at bat in the fifth, to get the big hit to get us within one run. It was a great win for me on the mound. It was the first time I have ever pitched here at home, being just a sophomore.”

Champaign Central answered Normal West's three-run third inning, with a six-run outburst of their own in the top of the fourth. Although five of the six runs were unearned due to Normal West errors, the Maroons certainly took advantage of the mistakes. Dorner's bases-loaded two-RBI single, tied the game at 3-3. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Porsche Player of the Week Joe Aeilts cleared the bases with his second double of the game for a 7-3 Maroon lead. Aeilts would finish with four RBI.

Normal West answered with two runs in the bottom of the fourth against Maroon starting pitcher and ace, Phillip Swartz (4 IP, 6R, 5H, 5ER, 0K, 3BB). Beal forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk and Rogers made it 7-5 Central with a sac-fly. 

“It was a great win for us today and coach had a great game plan and we executed it very well,” Rogers said. “I was happy with my catch in the seventh. I dove for it and fortunately I was able to catch it. I felt real comfortable at the plate and had a good day.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Dillingham brought the Wildcats within one with a clutch two-out RBI single, plating Watson who was the courtesy runner for the catcher Fairfield who had walked.

“Two heavyweights in our conference really went at it today,” Normal West coach Chris Hawkins said.

“Champaign Central has a very good team and John Staab does a great job over there. We really grinded one out today. Mitch (Fairfield) worked the count and had a huge two-strike game-winning hit for us. Peyton (Dillingham) is a football player so he is used to tight situations. He had a big two-out RBI single in the fifth for us. Great performance on the mound as well for Peyton. The offense's for both teams were working fast today and that causes the defense to work fast and make some mistakes.”

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