After Newark senior pitcher Jared Slivka finished up his warmup pitches to prepare for the bottom of the seventh inning of Thursday’s IHSA Class 1A third-place game, and the ball was thrown around the infield, fellow senior and third basemen Dalton Reibel flipped the ball back to Slivka with a simple message.
“I just told him, ‘Get three outs and we are the third-best Class 1A baseball team in the state,’” Reibel said.
Slivka did just that to give the Norsemen a 6-2 victory over Mount Pulaski at Duffy Bass Field on the campus of Illinois State University and put the finishing touches on a sensational 27-2 season.
“There were a lot of younger Newark kids here today, and hopefully they saw what Newark baseball can be,” Slivka said. “This group hopefully started something this season that keeps building and getting even better. I hope the younger kids in Newark start playing more baseball and are committed to making the school known for more than good basketball and volleyball programs.”
Newark rebounded after falling, 5-1, to Father McGivney Catholic in the semifinal earlier in the day.
“We were having a lot of fun in that second game,” Reibel said. “Once we got up early, we just kept things going. That second game was what Newark baseball looked like much of this season, guys having a blast playing the game they love to play.
“This has been a fantastic season and one that I will never forget. Along with basketball and volleyball, we wanted to make baseball a sport that gets thought of when talking about really good sports at Newark. I hope the younger kids that were watching us here today and all year are inspired to start playing a lot of baseball, enjoy it and have fun playing the game.”
Seniors Ethan Jeffers and Logan Benesh also played roles in helping the Norsemen reach uncharted waters this season.
“The first game we just kind of fell apart at the end, and it was frustrating for everybody. But the second game? That was Newark baseball,” said Jeffers, who made a sensational running catch before crashing into the left-field wall to start the third inning. “We hit the ball much better, we didn’t get down on ourselves, and instead of putting pressure on ourselves, we just played baseball as we can.
“My freshman year we won three games, and baseball at Newark was kind of a joke, for lack of a better word. We were able to turn things around this year. We won a conference championship, we won a regional, we won a sectional, we won a supersectional, and we finished third in the state. I’m not sure we had any certain expectations when the season started, but it seemed like with every game we played, we all started to believe more that we could accomplish what we did here today. This was such a fun season, and for it to happen my senior year, I couldn’t be any prouder. We wanted to win it all, obviously, but this is so awesome.”
Reibel, who finished the season with an 11-0 pitching record, wasn’t able to climb the mound on Thursday because of the pitch-count rule, but his effort in Monday’s supersectional win over Sterling Newman helped the Norsemen reach the final four.
“Joe [Martin] had pitched the sectional championship game, [Newman] can hit, and if we don’t beat them, we aren’t here today,” Reibel said. “Coach [Josh Cooper] and I talked about the options we had, but pitching that supersectional game even though I knew if we won I probably wouldn’t be able to pitch at all in the state finals ... it was bigger than just me. It’s frustrating in a way to not be able to pitch in either game today, but it would be more frustrating, I think, if we’d not gotten here.”
Slivka said some of the season’s success goes to Newark’s first-year coach.
“Coach Cooper cares about us 100%, and we all know that. He wants Newark to be a great baseball school and wants the best for all his players,” Slivka said. “He gives us the confidence to play good baseball and for a game and a couple of innings today, we did that all season. Not that they haven’t in the past, but the community gave us so much support this season and today. I mean, oh my gosh, there might only be two people left in town because it looked like they were all here. It was a pretty special day, that’s for sure.
Cooper said all the credit goes to his players, especially his four seniors.
“You need kids, seniors, to buy in,” Cooper said. “A coach can tell kids anything, but it takes a group of kids to listen, really listen to what you’re saying and go with it. That’s 90% of the battle. The four seniors on this team did that from the start and backed me up if any of the younger players had doubts. I mean, that’s a [senior] you’re going to war with every single game, telling you to sometimes get your head on straight. Sometimes it hits a little harder coming from a teammate, but these seniors never shied away from being leaders and in a way being the bad guy instead of me.
“My hope is this group has started something special at Newark High School, and I believe they did.”
I worked for 25 years as a CNC operator and in 2005 answered an ad in The Times for a freelance sports writer position. I became a full-time sports writer/columnist for The Times in February of 2016.
I enjoy researching high school athletics history, and in my spare time like to do the same, but also play video games and watch Twitch.