ROCHELLE — Hub senior Noah Knight walked up to the plate with an opportunity to send the Rochelle varsity baseball team into the IHSA Class 3A Rochelle Regional Finals with one swing of his bat. With the wind at his back, Knight delivered a towering blast to left field, a three-run homer that sealed Rochelle’s 11-1 victory over the sixth-seeded Freeport Pretzels in the regional semifinals on Thursday.
Knight was one of three Hubs to crush home runs in the game, and the senior outfielder’s shot capped off a seven-run sixth inning. The third-seeded Hubs will face the second-seeded Dixon Dukes in the finals this weekend. Rochelle improved to 16-8 overall with the win, and the Hubs will fight the Dukes for their first regional championship since 2014.
“I heard coach [Jarrod] Reynolds say that a home run wins the game and it felt really good to get that ball out,” Knight said. “It would mean a lot to win a regional title here. We have great fans who came out to support us today.”
Freeport took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning, taking advantage of a balk from senior Brandon Johnson. But Johnson dominated the Pretzels throughout the remainder of the game, striking out 11 hitters and throwing all six innings for the Hubs. Johnson helped his own cause too, sending an RBI double to right field in the bottom of the second.
“It would be great to bring home a regional championship in front of the home crowd,” Johnson said. “I always look to get the first-pitch fastball over and then I might look to come back with the curveball. I stuck with my fastball for most of the day.”
The Hubs took their first lead of the game when junior Gavin Ansteth sent an opposite-field homer to right in the bottom of the third inning. Senior Cody Johnson followed with a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth inning to give Rochelle a 4-1 advantage. Senior Zack Bernardin started the Hubs in the sixth inning, taking an RBI double to right field and making it a 5-1 game.
“We’ve been slumping over these past 10-to-12 games but we were able to get rolling today,” Bernardin said. “I think that’s what makes us a good team. When one person hits the ball, everybody starts hitting. It would be awesome to win a regional here… It’s crazy to think that we’re here now as seniors and we’re ready to play for one ourselves.”
Brandon Johnson gave the Hubs a 6-1 lead with an RBI single that bounced off the center-field fence. After RBI knocks from senior Johnny Beck and Cody Johnson put Rochelle up 8-1, Knight sent the home crowd off happy with his game-ending homer to left field. Saturday’s title game will be a rematch from Tuesday, May 14, when the Dukes edged out the Hubs 4-3 at Dixon.