Prep baseball: Neuqua Valley can’t solve DeKalb, Kees

DeKalb shortstop Jackson Kees bounced back Tuesday from a pivotal error to make two key defensive plays and go 3 for 3 at the plate.

The Barbs also bounced back from a six-run loss to Neuqua Valley on Monday for a 5-4 win on Tuesday against the Wildcats, keeping their shot at the No. 2 seed alive entering the DuPage Valley Conference tournament next week.

“I take pride in defense, but I know the boys behind me are going to pick me up if I make a mistake,” Kees said. “So I just wash it, go on to the next play, and be ready.”

The Wildcats (11-17 overall, 5-9 DVC) took their first lead in the top of the third inning. Paul Feret led things off with a single, then Kees mishandled a grounder that may have been a double play. Jorden Castillo doubled home both runs as Neuqua Valley went up 3-1.

The Barbs (18-10, 8-6) were still down 3-1 in the fourth when Kees backhanded a hard chopper to turn a double play, ending a threat by the Wildcats. After the Barbs tied it up in the fourth, Kees charged a slow roller in the fifth to get Andrew Gould as part of Brodie Farrell’s second 1-2-3 inning.

“When he makes a mistake, or a ball takes a hop on him, he never gets down on himself,” DeKalb coach Josh Latimer said. “It’s what a lot of these college coaches are starting to see, it’s what a lot of these college coaches love. It’s what has so many guys out after him right now. Whether he is on the mound or at shortstop, you trust he is going to come back and do something great for you.”

The Barbs took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth. Kees singled with two outs and no one on, then Maddux Clarence reached on an error by third baseman Daniel Marketti, who fielded the ball cleanly but overthrew the bag at first.

Kees scored on a wild pitch then Paul Kakoliris singled home Clarence for a 5-3 lead.

“We haven’t really been blown away by teams,” Neuqua Valley coach James Thornton said. “It’s usually the team that blinks first. Today, we blinked first. We put a guy in position to make a play, he doesn’t make a play. They capitalize. That’s just the game.”

DeKalb took a 1-0 lead in the first when Cole Latimer hit a home run off the scoreboard in left-centerfield. Gould, Castillo and Marketti each singled to start the second to tie things up.

With the Barbs down 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Kees and Clarence singled to start the inning, then Kees scored on a groundout by Isaac Black. A two-out single by Ben Nunez tied the game at 3-3.

“It was huge for the kids,” Josh Latimer said. “We told them in the dugout when we were down 3-1 that we were never out of it. We knew that we were hitting the ball hard today. You start off the game with a home run with Cole, that gives you a ton of enthusiasm, a ton of excitement.”

Kees had three hits while Kakoliris and Nunez had two each. Castillo had three hits for the Wildcats and Marketti added two. Alex Voegele pitched six innings and allowed five runs, three earned, in taking the loss. He allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked one.

Brodie Farrell picked up the win for the Barbs, allowing four runs, two earned, in 6⅓ innings. He struck out seven and walked two. Aiden Lange allowed runners to get to second and third with outs but struck out Marketti looking to end the game.

“We always feel like we’re in the game,” Thornton said. “We’re always in the mindset to just pass the baton. Our biggest issue this year has been taking that third strike, that outside corner pitch or wherever it is. Just watching that third strike, that’s been an Achilles heel of ours.”

Both teams wrap up regular season conference play on Thursday at Neuqua Valley. Waubonsie Valley sewed up the No. 1 seed with a win over Naperville North on Tuesday, but the Barbs can still earn the No. 2 seed. They enter Thursday tied with Naperville Central (14-13, 8-6).

“It’s a big win, a bounce back from yesterday, a game we kind of threw away,” Kees said. “It’s good to bounce back. I think yesterday everyone was pressing a little bit knowing we had to win that game. Came in today, everyone was relaxed and it felt good.”

DeKalb’s Paul Kakoliris slides back safely into first as Neuqua Valley's Will Zalabak makes the catch during their game Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at DeKalb High School.
Neuqua Valley's Alex Voegele delivers a pitch during their game against DeKalb Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at DeKalb High School.
Neuqua Valley's Dante Valdivia gets down a bunt during their game against DeKalb Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at DeKalb High School.
Neuqua Valley's Andrew Gould makes a play at shortstop during their game against DeKalb Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at DeKalb High School.
Neuqua Valley's Brendan Morris fields a ball at second base during their game against DeKalb Tuesday, May 7, 2024, at DeKalb High School.
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