If there was ever a time to feel the pressure, it would be during a rivalry game.
But, oddly enough, Lakes pitcher Justin Demand was more relaxed than he's been all season Monday when he took the mound against archrival Antioch.
As the Eagles' ace, he has sometimes pitched as if the weight of the entire team were on his shoulders. But this time, for whatever reason, Demand was loose. He wasn't pressing.
The approach suited him because Demand was in command. He rolled up a school-record 16 strikeouts (the previous record was 12) in leading Lakes to a much-needed victory. It gave the Eagles their third victory of the season.
"Justin's pitching performance was the most dominant pitching performance I've ever seen," Lakes coach Ray Gialo said. "He was carrying a no-hitter into the seventh with one out. And the ball that went for the hit was fair by just a few inches. He had all of his pitches working and he was just out there throwing. He didn't analyze himself as much as he sometimes does.
"I think Justin was putting a lot of pressure on himself early on and putting really high expectations on himself and he was trying to be perfect with everything. His first couple of outings were tough, but he's started to put all that aside and just really settle in. This was a really good game for him."
Gialo is hoping that Demand's big game will be good for the entire team over the long haul.
The Eagles needed a big, emotional win after starting out 2-11 going into the Antioch game.
"We came back from our Spring Break trip and we really struggled," Gialo said. "We lost a couple of one-run games where we shot ourselves in the foot with errors and then our bats went quiet. It was hard on our guys, especially our seniors, but they kept a good attitude and the right frame of mind and I think they just needed a game like the Antioch game.
"We're hoping that the Antioch game is a springboard for us, that it gets us back on track. We had some games where it just seemed like our guys were waiting for something bad to happen. But with the way Justin was pitching against Antioch, he was so confident and you could feel our other guys starting to play with that same kind of confidence. We're counting on this for some momentum."
Catching a break: If Lakes can use this week's victory over archrival Antioch to turn its season around, there will be reinforcements for the climb.
Catcher Danny Jackson, who missed eight of the team's first 12 games with a knee and back injury, returned to the lineup recently. He is a veteran behind the plate who can also be counted on for some clutch offense. Last season, he blasted 10 doubles.
"Having Danny back is really important to us," Lakes coach Ray Gialo said. "He hits in the middle of the lineup and he does such a nice job catching. He loves playing back there."
Despite the missed time, Jackson is still holding the interest of multiple colleges (such as Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Augustana) and even has the ear of several Big Ten coaches, who could take him on as a walk-on.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.