Baseball: Knapczyk’s clutch hit pushes Neuqua Valley past Naperville North

A clutch at-bat by center fielder Matt Knapczyk lifted Neuqua Valley to a come-from-behind victory Tuesday over Naperville North.

The senior came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth with two outs, his team trailing the visiting Huskies 7-6, and runners on second and third.

Then came strike one and strike two on the first couple of pitches, but that didn’t phase Knapczyk in the least.

“First pitch curveball,” he said, “and you’re never looking for a curveball on the first pitch, so I let it go by. Second pitch a fastball and I didn’t like it on the outside part.”

Knapczyk worked the count to 2-2, fouling off four pitches, then drove the next attempt to the right-center field fence, knocking in 2 runs and giving the Wildcats the lead.

Neuqua Valley held on at Bill Walsh Memorial Field for an 8-7 win.

“I just had to fight everything close until he gave me the pitch I wanted,” Knapczyk added. “And I took it for a ride.”

It was the second game of a 3-game series between the two DuPage Valley Conference rivals.

Naperville North took the opener 8-1 on Monday, with the rubber match scheduled for Thursday.

“It’s tough to play a team three times,” said the senior, “tough to beat a team three times, tough to (even) beat them two times.

“But every day is different, and anything can happen. Today was our day.”

Despite the loss, Huskies coach Jim Chiappetta says he enjoys the 3-game series format.

“I love the model we went to,” he said, “the Monday-Tuesday-Thursday three-game set. It works really well. You see their best, they see our best, and that goes across the board for the entire conference.”

Naperville North took the early lead as Jackson Prentice homered in his first two plate appearances, the second a towering 3-run shot.

But Neuqua Valley battled back with the long ball, the big blow a 3-run home run by Andrew Gould.

The Huskies took the lead in the top of the fifth when Will Richards smashed a double that drove in 2.

“We did some good things today,” said Chiappetta, “but I thought we came out a little flat.

“Jackson kept us in the game with his two bombs, and that’s a pretty nice feat. He kept us afloat early, and then it was back and forth.

“We’d bang one and get a couple across, then they’d bang one and get a couple across. It was a fun game to watch and a fun game to be part of.”

Neuqua Valley held on to the slim 1-run advantage heading into the top of the seventh, but the Huskies put runners on first and second with just one away.

Then Wildcats reliever Peter Pipikios induced a 6-4-3 double play to close out the win.

Knapczyk led Neuqua Valley (4-6, 1-1) with 4 RBI, and Prentice did the same for Naperville North (4-4, 1-1).

Knapczyk finished with 3 hits, teammate Carson Stevens had 3 as well, while Wildcats starting pitcher Will Zalabak persevered through 6 difficult innings to earn the victory.

“It was tough out there today,” said Zalabak. “Looking at the score, it might have not looked like the best day for me.

“But on the mound, I think I faced a lot of adversity. I was able to bear down and pitch in the strike zone.

“I felt like commanding the strike zone was a big part of my day.”

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