BY CHAD DARE
Facing one of the top-ranked Class 4A teams in the state and the top team in the Big 12 Conference was the challenge the Danville baseball team had on Saturday.
Normal West remained undefeated in league play with a 14-4 win over Danville in the opening game of a doubleheader at Danville Stadium, and the Wildcats capped the day with an 18-0 victory in the second game.
“It’s not a real positive outlook to face a team that has won something like 20 games in a row and is ranked No. 3 in the state without any of your top three pitchers,’’ Danville coach Gary Gritton said. “I give Gabe Garza credit, he really competed in game one, and Austin (West) comes in both games to get outs for us.’’
But with five straight losses this week, including four in a row in the Big 12 Conference, Gritton knows things need to change for the Vikings, who are now 8-15 overall and 3-7 in the league.
“It started with a Tuesday’s heart-breaker, Chase threw a gem and we couldn’t get a win for him,’’ said Gritton as Champaign Central defeated Danville and Thurston 3-1 in nine innings. “We haven’t bounced back yet. We have to find a way to regroup. We’ve got one week left before postseason play.’’
And Gritton’s biggest concern is how his team responded after that loss to Central.
“We have guys that are here and just happy to be here,’’ Gritton said. “I want competitors out there. I want guys that are at the park competing for 21 outs every game.
“I want a team that is angry that we lost to Central on Tuesday night.’’
And Gritton saw some of that fight on Saturday.
Danville trailed Normal West 10-0 entering the fifth inning and the Vikings were one out away from a mercy-rule loss when West connected on a two-run double to right.
Senior catcher Chuckie Robinson followed with an RBI triple and he scored on a wild pitch, allowing the Vikings to pull within 10-4.
“Coach has been telling us that we need to keep fighting and actually battle with teams,’’ West said. “I think we proved that today against Normal West.
“We made them play all seven innings in the first game.’’
West also said the Vikings tried something different on Saturday.
“We haven’t been bonding well as a team,’’ he said. “So, we had a team breakfast this morning and I think that really helped.’’
Normal West right fielder Ryan Frye had a monster game in the opener, going 4-for-5 with two homers, a triple and he drove in six for the Wildcats.
Nick Heib struck out 10 in getting the victory for Normal West, which improved to 25-3 overall and 10-0 in the Big 12 Conference.
“We have beaten Normal West in some epic games the past two years,’’ Gritton said. “We knew they would be jacked up to play us.’’
Things didn’t get any better in the second game for the Vikings.
Normal West’s Reed Rogers tossed a five-inning no-hitter, while the Wildcats pounded out 18 hits with 15 different players getting at least one hit.
“We just need to wash that one away,’’ Gritton said. “But, in that first game, I’m feeling good with the way that we competed and battled with one of the best teams in the state.
“Now, we need to get ready for this final week of the regular season and get things going in the right direction for the postseason.’’
Danville is back at home on Monday against Champaign Centennial.