BY CHAD DARE
While city bragging rights were on the line Tuesday night, Danville and Schlarman Academy were focused on the bigger picture.
For the Vikings, the 8-1 victory at Danville Stadium was an opportunity to make progress before opening Big 12 Conference play on Thursday.
“This is a big week for our team,’’ said Danville junior right-hander Mike Vascura, who improved to 2-2 with the complete-game victory. “We still have a few things that we need to get fixed before we get into conference play.’’
And on the other side of the field, the Hilltoppers are just looking for positive steps.
“I’m really happy with the way we played,’’ Schlarman coach Jason Woodworth said. “We are at ground zero in rebounding and we’re trying to get to the point where we can compete with good teams.’’
According to Danville coach Gary Gritton, Schlarman did some things really well.
“Schlarman battled today,’’ Gritton said. “They put some balls in play and they barreled some balls against Mike.
“They are low on numbers, but Jason has done nice job with the kids that he has this year.’’
And while the Hilltoppers (2-8) took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning against Vascura, it was short-lived.
Danville’s big right-hander made a couple mistakes in that opening frame, but after that he struck out eight and walked just one.
“I had a missed pitchout in the first inning and that’s how they got their one run,’’ said Vascura as Schlarman’s Riley Jones executed a perfect squeeze bunt in the first inning, scoring Austin Calhoun.
Not only did Vascura complete miss the pitchout, but he also had an errant pickoff throw that allowed Calhoun to advance to third after he opened the game with a leadoff single.
“Mike didn’t miss the sign on that pitchout, he just missed his spot,’’ Gritton said. “It could have been a shutout, if he executed in that spot.
“So the first inning, was a little rocky, but he threw well. It seemed like he got better as the game went along.’’
Vascura retired 11 of the final 14 Schlarman batters, striking out six of them.
“Towards the end of the game, I got into a grove,’’ he said.
And it didn’t hurt that the Danville offense turned the 1-0 deficit into an 8-1 lead with one in the first, two more in the third and a big five-run fourth.
Vascura drove home four of those runs — three coming on a bases-clearing, two-out double in the fourth.
Seniors Chase Thurston, Chuckie Robinson and Austin West each drove home a run as the Vikings four returning players combined for seven RBIs.
“That’s what we are supposed to do,’’ Vascura said. “We’re the veterans and we have to produce like that for our team.
“We had a feeling that we going to have a big inning like we had in the fourth.’’
And Vascura said it was a sign that the Vikings (4-3) have learned a lesson.
“We had to shut them off as early as possible,’’ he said. “We had a problem with that earlier in the year and it cost us a game.’’
Danville (4-3) and Vascura suffered a loss at Paris this season after building a 4-0 lead.
For Schlarman, the fast start with Calhoun scoring the game’s first run was one of many positives.
“We want to be able to do some things on offense, and getting Austin on base was a big key for us,’’ Woodworth said. “We’re not going to hammer the ball around. We have to manufacture stuff and that was a prime example.’’
While Jones (0-2) took the loss for the Hilltoppers, the senior left-hander allowed just four earned runs.
Additionally, they pitched to Robinson, who has already signed with Southern Mississippi, in all three of hit at-bats and Calhoun was thrown out trying to steal on the Danville catcher in the fifth inning.
“For us, it was just about getting better,’’ Woodworth said. “I don’t think you will see people pitch to Chuckie three times in a game, and then we tried to run on him. We decided to take our shots and work at something.
“It’s a big step forward for us. A couple plays here and a couple calls here, it’s a 4-1 game.’’
Both teams are scheduled to be back in action today. Schlarman Academy plays at Salt Fork in the Vermilion Valley Conference contest, while Danville is at Terre Haute South before opening Big 12 Conference action on Thursday at Champaign Central.