Baseball: Neuqua Valley knocks out LarkinNeuqua Valley Tanner Giesel tags out Larkin's Christopher Guzeman on a steal attmept in the fourth inning Friday in Naperville.
Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 13, 2012 9:07PM
Committing to Illinois last August, two weeks after Neuqua Valley was eliminated from the IHSBCA Phil Lawler Summer Classic for a second straight summer shy of a title, Neuqua Valley senior right-hander Nick Blackburn cemented his place as the Wildcats’ ace.
But as the Wildcats continue to prove as the 2012 spring campaign finishes its first month, their wealth and depth on the mound certainly expounds further, as Blackburn alluded to after his first start of the season last month.
Behind Blackburn, the Wildcats possess an array of junior arms that seem ready and willing to try and help the program return to the extended postseason runs it has been accustomed to.
Following the lead a pair of fellow juniors set before him in the Wildcats’ last two games, junior right-hander Jon Vlk picked up Friday right where Danny Mokrzycki and David Gerber left off.
Throwing six solid innings of two-hit baseball, Vlk got the baton and ran with it as Neuqua Valley cruised to a 10-2 victory over Larkin in Naperville.
“It was good. It was good (Friday), especially warming up. I felt even with this wind kind of blowing out, had the wind in my face, I’d get good action moving on my ball,” Vlk said. “Hitters got jammed a lot. I’d start that pitch off in the middle, kind of break in. So it felt good. Curveball’s breaking. Changeup was diving. Two-seam [fastball] was coming in.”
Vlk (2-0) limited the Royals to just two runs on two hits while fanning four.
A testament to how efficient Vlk was all afternoon, he retired the first nine batters he faced and set the Royals down in order four times on the afternoon, all in the course of throwing 63 pitches.
“It was a carbon copy [of Gerber’s performance in a 6-0 shutout of Batavia Thursday]. He pounded the strike zone with three pitches,” Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner said. “Just strike, strike, strike, strike, strike and when you do that, good things happen.”
Larkin (6-8, 3-3 Upstate Eight) didn’t have its first hit until Chris Guzeman led off the fourth with a single off Vlk and were kept off the scoreboard until Niko Morado’s two-run double off Vlk in the sixth.
“I think [Vlk] just had good movement. He’s not overpowering, but he threw the curveball when he had to and he had really good movement on his two-seam [fastball],” Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. “[Vlk’s two-seam fastball] kind of jammed us a few times or had us guessing a little bit and just kept us off-balance. You tip your cap.”
While Vlk and junior right-hander Pat Kenny combined to do a number on the Royals’ bats, Neuqua Valley (10-3, 7-0 Upstate Eight) won its eighth straight game behind another offensive explosion.
Five different Wildcats recorded two hits — juniors Jeff Evak, Dylan Goss and seniors Blackburn, Joey Grabaritis and Brett Marsalli — to help pace a 12-hit attack.
Goss, Grabaritis and Marsalli all had at least two RBI apiece as Neuqua Valley topped the 10-run mark for the third time in four games.
“We’ve been swinging the bats a lot better as a team and especially (Friday). We wanted to get a bunch or runs, just to start the game,” said Grabaritis, who knocked in three runs. “Go out and start hitting right out of the box. Give our pitchers a nice comfort zone.”
Junior lefty Phil Hodges took the loss for the Royals after getting tagged for six runs on eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings.