NEWARK – After a 75-minute thunder and rain delay, Newark baseball coach Josh Cooper was perfectly within reason to be concerned about whether his team’s focus was still on its Class 1A sectional championship game against Grant Park.
Reasonable, but unnecessary.
The Norsemen knew they were on the verge of history, and their focus was right where it needed to be.
Joe Martin accounted for six innings of hard-as-nails pitching before yielding to teammate Luke Haage for the final frame, and their teammates made the most of their timely 11 hits and four Dragons errors on the day to earn the first sectional baseball championship in school history with a 9-3 win Friday evening.
“When we had the delay, I walked into the locker room thinking that they might be goofing around, thinking that we weren’t going to get this game in today because the weather looked so crappy. I was about to get on them and tell them to stay focused, but I didn’t have to. They were still focused on the game.”
— Newark baseball coach Josh Cooper
After falling behind, 1-0, the Norsemen jumped on Grant Park starting and losing pitcher Clayton McKinstry for two runs in the home half of the first before thunder and rain delayed the contest for more than an hour.
When the teams came back, Newark posted four unearned runs in the third on its way to its first sectional crown, coming on the heels of only the second regional baseball championship at Newark.
The Norsemen handed Grant Park (15-8) its second loss to a 1A school this season. The win lifted the Norsemen’s mark to 25-1 on the year heading into the Rockford Supersectional at 4 p.m. Monday at Rivets Stadium against Sterling Newman, a 7-4 winner over Freeport Aquin in their sectional-title meeting.
“When we had the delay, I walked into the locker room thinking that they might be goofing around, thinking that we weren’t going to get this game in today because the weather looked so crappy,” Cooper said. “I was about to get on them and tell them to stay focused, but I didn’t have to. They were still focused on the game.
“We’ve been using history as motivation all year, starting with winning the conference championship for the first time since 1997, when these kids hadn’t been born yet and I was just 3 years old. Once we accomplished that, it was on to regional, and winning that hadn’t happened since 2006, and only in 2006. So people are comparing us to that team, which is really a great honor.
“So, before the game, I asked the guys, ‘How many sectional baseball championship does Newark have?’ They all said, ‘zero.’ I asked them again after the game, and they all said, ‘one.’
“These kids deserve it. They’ve put in the work. They’re enjoying every moment and not taking anything for granted.”
The Dragons jumped in front, 1-0, with the two hardest-hit balls off Martin all day, doubles by Troy Reynolds and Wesley Schneider. But Newark took the lead on a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk to Martin in the home first before the rain halted things.
While Martin (2 earned runs, 8 strikeouts, 1 walk) remained tough on the mound, his teammates plated four runs in the third with two out. Martin and Jake Kruser both singled and came around to score on back-to-back errors by the Dragons. Haage capped the rally with a two-run single to center.
A triple by Jared Slivka, a run-scoring hit by Lucas Pasakarnas and another error added two more runs in the fourth. A double by Dalton Reibel, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Martin added an insurance run in the sixth.
Haage walked two and allowed the final Grant Park hit, but closed the game out without allowing a run. Slivka had a double in addition to the three-bagger. Reibel, Jake Kruser and Mitchell Kruser each had a double and a single for the Norsemen.
Reynolds had two hits for the Dragons.
“It’s always nice to get to a lead early, to give your pitcher some confidence, but that’s where it stopped for us today,” said Grant Park coach Juan Desiderio, whose only other loss to a 1A ballclub was to sectional finalist Milford. “I won’t blame it on the delay, for sure. Fact is, we just had too many mistakes. At this point in the state tournament, the teams you’re playing are just too good and will make you pay for mistakes. That will burn you every time.
“Our pitcher did a nice job after the delay – both pitchers did – but Newark put the ball in play a lot. When you give a team five, six outs in an inning and they put up four runs on you, hats off to them.”