Baseball: Neuqua Valley wins fourth straight regional
Winning a baseball regional championship is difficult.
Just don't tell that to Neuqua Valley.
Behind a strong pitching performance by Jake Karaba and a 12-hit offensive attack, the Wildcats captured their fourth straight regional title with a 10-1 victory over host Hinsdale Central on Saturday.
Neuqua Valley, which also has eight regionals titles in the last nine years, improved to 25-7 on the spring and advanced to Wednesday's Oswego sectional semifinals.
"It's not easy," said Neuqua Valley coach James Thornton when asked about the recent playoff success. "I told the guys before we left to never get tired of winning. Just try to take advantage of every opportunity and have fun while doing it. Because you don't know when something like that happens next."
Karaba was in control from the opening inning as the right-gander scattered five hits while allowing a single run in the fifth. The senior struck out six and did not walk a batter.
"(Catcher) Kevin (Butler) does a great job calling pitches," Karaba said. "He calls it all and tells me what to do. We are always on the same page.
"This is awesome. It's the first step to the sectionals. It's all part of the process. And it's awesome to come out here and play a good team like this and get a good win. We are starting to hit the ball well and I'm excited for the next game."
The bats did indeed come alive late, with Neuqua scoring 6 runs in the sixth inning to break open a close 4-1 contest. Ethan Schreier drove in 2 with a single, and Nolan Clifford had an RBI double.
Clifford also drove in a run in the third inning with a double and then tripled in the fifth before coming across to score on a wild pitch.
The big blow of the game came off the bat of Justin Blazek, who opened the scoring with a long home run to left in the second.
"Everyone was super amped up coming in," Clifford said. "We were just attacking fastballs and looking for our pitch. And we were trying to drive balls to all fields. People were hitting the ball all over the place and that was good for us."
Hinsdale Central, which beat West Aurora 3-2 in its playoff opener, wrapped up the season with a mark of 16-15-1. Scott Pitts had a pair of hits and also scored the lone run.
"I loved the way they competed for five and a half innings," Hinsdale Central coach Jason Ziemer said. "We tried to use our whole roster and pull one out."