Neuqua Valley's baseball team couldn't have timed its luck any better.
In Monday's opening round of the Phil Lawler Summer Classic at Lisle's Benedictine University, the Wildcats took advantage of a flurry of bloop singles to top St. Joseph 6-2 and move a key step closer to Wednesday's semifinals.
Neuqua Valley (20-8) will play Prairie Ridge at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Naperville's North Central College with a berth in the semifinals on the line. If the Wildcats lose that game, they can still advance with a victory in the 3 p.m. elimination game.
"You know what, there are days when you hit the ball hard all over the park and they're outs," said Neuqua Valley assistant coach John Fumagalli. "And then some of the balls you don't hit very hard have eyes and fall in the spots, and we had quite a few of those today."
The bloop barrage came during Neuqua Valley's 5-run third inning that put the Wildcats safely ahead at 6-0. A two-out rally began with Jack Amaro's softly-hit single, and continued with similar RBI hits by Matt Wollnik and 2-run singles by Nick Blackburn and Jeff Evak. Two walks also helped the Wildcats bat around.
The 6-0 lead proved to be more than enough support for Blackburn on the mound. The senior ace went the distance while striking out 10 and scattering 7 hits. Four hits dropped in the final two innings when Blackburn began to tire.
"If we win the next one we'll be able to get out of this with only playing two games instead of three," Blackburn said of the importance of the first-round victory. "And that's always big to save the pitching."
Neuqua Valley opened the scoring in the second inning when a walk to Blackburn led to Cody Coll's sacrifice fly.
After Blackburn escaped a first-inning jam by coaxing an inning-ending double play, St. Joseph managed only two more baserunners until breaking through for a pair of sixth-inning runs. Back-to-back RBI singles by Stephen Scatassa and starting pitcher Trayvon Johnson narrowed the gap to 6-2.
The Chargers tried to rally in the top of the seventh but a ground out thwarted a first-and-third chance and ended the game. St. Joseph plays Lincoln-Way North in an elimination game at 10 a.m. Tuesday at North Central College.
Fumagalli said the Wildcats will send junior Danny Mokrzyki to the mound against Prairie Ridge.
"Hopefully we can come out and play well and do all the things we're capable of doing," Fumagalli said.