Peloza powers Grayslake Central into state semis
Perhaps Grayslake Central senior pitcher Kevin Peloza would benefit from some Ginkgo Biloba, a natural supplement used to enhance memory.
"My memory is terrible," Peloza said with a laugh when he was asked on Monday if he had ever before had a no-hitter. "I think I've had one before (in youth baseball). Well, maybe not. I'm not sure. I really don't remember."
Chances are, Peloza, Ginkgo Biloba or not, won't forget his latest, and possibly his first, no-hitter. It came in storybook fashion on one of the biggest possible stages for a high school pitcher.
Peloza mowed down batter after batter Monday in leading Grayslake Central to a 4-0, complete game, no-hit victory over Nazareth in the Class 3A supersectional at North Central College in Naperville. In the process, the Rams qualified for a spot in the state finals, their second since 2009 when they placed third in Class 3A. They also avenged last year's supersectional loss to Nazareth on the very same North Central College field.
Grayslake Central improves to 27-13 and next meets Wheaton St. Francis (a 7-3 winner over Metamora in the Augustana College supersectional) in Friday's 10 a.m. Class 3A semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
"I just love this. This is surreal, honestly," said Peloza, whose no-hitter was aided by 6 strikeouts. He walked four batters and hit one with a pitch. "When I was out there, I really wasn't thinking anything. I can't recall anything, except for 'just get the last out.'
"I was just throwing fastballs and hitting the outside corner all day. That's pretty much all I remember."
Peloza (8-0 on the mound this season) was so in the moment that he wasn't even fully aware of the fact that he had a no-hitter going, not until his teammates mobbed him on the mound when the final out was secured.
But the rest of the Rams knew, which is why shortstop Ryan Fontana and first baseman Kyle Clark were so nervous on the last play.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, Nazareth catcher Drew Dunker smacked a bouncing shot to Fontana at short. Fontana had to cleanly field the ball and quickly get it to Clark to wrap up the final out, and the no-hitter.
"I think I probably rushed the ball a little bit," Fontana said. "I tried to take it slow, but I just wanted to help save (the no-hitter) for Kevin."
When Clark made the catch in just the nick-of-time, the large contingent of Grayslake Central fans erupted, and so did the dugout.
"That was so crazy," Clark said. "I was so nervous (waiting to catch the throw from Fontana). I can't even describe it. I couldn't even stay still. And then it all became real. The no-hitter for Kevin, and all of our hard work. It all paid off with that final out."
Just before the final out, the Rams had put together just enough offense to put the game out of reach.
For most of the way, Grayslake Central was clinging to a 1-0 lead, which was secured when Clark drove in a run in the second inning off of Nazareth starter Jake Bartels. Then in the sixth inning, against reliever Mike Greene, Fontana opened with a walk and Pat Burba drove him in with a triple to right field in the next at-bat.
Kyle Balling immediately drove in Burba with a single and then Balling eventually scored when the reeling Roadrunners walked him in.
"It was a high pitch (on the triple) and I just went with it. It was a big play," said Burba, who also thwarted a Nazareth rally in the top of the sixth inning when his catch of a difficult line drive in left field with a runner at second secured the third out for the Rams.
"For Kevin to also pitch a no-hitter in the supersectional is just outstanding," Burba added. "It's kind of crazy."
The Roadrunners, who wrap up their season with a 27-12-1 record, were in total agreement. They couldn't believe they got no-hit in the supersectional of all games.
"I'm extremely surprised that we got no-hit because we hit all year long," said Nazareth assistant coach John Sime, who speaks for head coach Lee Milano. "In fact, we were just talking and we can't remember if our program has ever been no-hit before.
"We asked the kids when they'd come back (to the dugout), is (Peloza's) fastball doing something and they'd say, 'No.' It was just one of those days."
The overachieving Rams, who began the season with only two returning starters, could say the same thing, but for very different reasons. This day was one of those days, a day that they, and even Peloza, will always remember because so many things that had to go their way did.
"Nazareth is always here (deep in the playoffs) because they're a great program but I kind of felt last year that if we had gotten a few bounces, things could have been different for us," Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen said. "We got some of that today, especially with Kevin's pitching.
"For us to be here with this group of guys, no one could have predicted this. But it's such a credit to the kids. These guys are on a mission. They are absolutely locked in and on an unbelievable mission."
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