To Brazon Wheeler, the Ottawa and La Salle-Peru baseball games aren’t just another game.
“It’s the biggest game for us,” the Ottawa second baseman admitted. “We’re not that far away and everybody kind of knows each other, so there’s a lot of rivalry that goes on.”
It’s also the biggest Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division series of the season.
In the first of the three-game series, the Pirates drew first blood Monday at Veterans Park in Peru as they built a six-run lead — thanks in part to four unearned runs in the top of the third — and held on to claim a 6-3 victory over the Cavaliers.
“The first win is big,” Wheeler said. “Last year, we ended up losing the conference by one game so it’s big to get this first one.”
The victory also moved the Pirates (13-2, 7-0) into first place in the NIB 12 West ahead of L-P (13-3, 8-1).
Game 2 will be played at 4:30 p.m. today at Ottawa Township High School, while the final game of the series is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Peru.
“Do you want to have the first win and want the first game? Sure, it makes stuff a lot easier,” L-P coach Matt Glupczynski said. “But things just didn’t go our way today and we have to regroup. The best thing about baseball is we’re coming back tomorrow and playing again.”
The Pirates led from start to finish on Monday.
Two batters into the game, Wheeler’s RBI double to right field gave Ottawa the lead.
Two batters later, Wheeler scored on a fielder’s choice by third baseman and cleanup hitter Kyle Wallbaum to make it 2-0.
The Pirates then took full control two innings later with help from L-P.
After Wheeler reached on an error to start the inning, he scored on an RBI groundout by right fielder Tabor Griglione to give the Pirates a 3-0 advantage.
A batter later, Wallbaum — who reached on an error — scored on a third L-P error to make it 4-0.
After that, a two-out RBI single by catcher Colten Trager increased the lead to 5-0, and courtesy runner Brandon Anderson made it 6-0 when he scored on a RBI single by designated hitter Cahill Horner.
“Early in the game, we were fortunate that they weren’t able to make some defensive plays and we were able to take advantage of it,” Ottawa coach Don Heaberlin said. “We were able to come through with some big two-out base hits.”
In all, the Cavs made five errors and allowed four unearned runs in the first three innings.
In fact, five of the first six Ottawa runs reached base or advanced at least one base on an L-P error.
The Cavs tried to get back into the game with two unearned runs in the bottom of third off Ottawa starter Jonah Morris, but L-P struggled to get much more.
A two-out bloop single in the sixth by second baseman Noah Lamboley made it 6-3, but the Cavs went 1-2-3 in the seventh to seal the Pirates’ victory.
“Hats off to them. They put pressure on us and we didn’t respond very well and it led to them winning,” Glupczynski said. “We’ve got to do a better job of fielding the baseball.”
Morris allowed three runs — one earned — on four hits to record the win. He struck out eight but walked six.
Trager finished with two hits and an RBI, while Michael Hermosillo also had two hits.
Jenkins took the loss as he allowed six runs — two earned — on seven hits in the complete-game effort.
Austin Smith led L-P at the plate as he doubled and drove in both L-P runs in the third.
Note: Heaberlin said Wallbaum will start Tuesday’s game for Ottawa, while Tony Gondolfi is scheduled to pitch Thursday at Veterans Park. Glupczynski is uncertain who would pitch the rest of the series for L-P.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.