ROCHELLE — The Hubs varsity baseball team continued its strong conference stretch earlier this week, with the Rochelle boys taking the first two games of their three-game series with LaSalle-Peru. Rochelle defeated the Cavaliers on the road Monday by a score of 7-2 before returning home and winning on Tuesday by a score of 7-3. The Hubs are now 9-5 overall and 7-1 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 West.
“I think the kids are really excited about the possibility of winning the conference championship,” head coach Jarrod Reynolds said. “It’s something we’re working toward and it’s something that hasn’t been done here in a longtime. We have a great opportunity ahead of us, but we need to finish this series out.”
Rochelle scored two runs in the top of the first inning to take a 2-0 lead over LaSalle-Peru in its series-opener. Junior Zack Bernardin walked and scored on an RBI double by junior Brandon Johnson, who then scored on an RBI double from junior Hayden Jones. Senior Noah Mershon doubled in the second inning, and senior Johnny Kisner singled in the third inning. Sophomore Gavin Ansteth singled in the fourth inning.
LaSalle-Peru tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning with three hits including two doubles. Rochelle put two runners on in the fifth inning after junior Johnny Beck walked and Kisner singled, but no runs would score. The Hubs finally cracked the game open with five runs in the top of the sixth inning.
“We haven’t been hitting the ball well over the first half of the game, but it seems like we tend to come up clutch over the later few innings,” Kisner said.
Ansteth singled to begin the scoring threat, and Mershon doubled with one out before senior Riley Lodico walked. Bernardin plated Ansteth on an RBI single, and Johnson drove in both Lodico and Bernardin with a two-RBI single. Beck walked before both Johnson and Beck scored on an error. Beck recorded the win on the mound for Rochelle, throwing a complete game and striking out 12 batters.
“We’re getting really good pitching, and when you have good pitching you usually have more margin for error in other areas of the game,” Reynolds said. “Our kids have been throwing strikes and I think our last five pitching performances in the conference have been really good.”
Bernardin broke the second game of Rochelle’s series with LaSalle-Peru open with a home run in the first inning to put the Hubs ahead 1-0. Kisner singled with two outs, and Lodico added a single in the second inning. The Cavaliers strung together five hits in the top of the third inning to score twice and take a 2-1 lead.
But Johnson’s solo home run tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third inning, and both Beck and Kisner singled afterward. Junior Cody Johnson, Mershon and Bernardin each singled in the fourth inning, and Beck doubled for the Hubs in the fifth inning.
Rochelle finished strong once again, scoring five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to jump ahead 7-2. Mershon walked and scored on a passed ball, and both Bernardin and Brandon Johnson scored on an RBI single by Beck. Kisner singled soon after, and both Beck and Kisner crossed home plate on a two-RBI double by Ansteth. LaSalle-Peru scored one run in the top of the seventh.
“We seem to be able to have the big inning and we really benefit from big innings,” Reynolds said. “We get our timing down late in games and kids begin to figure it out. We were able to break the game open late today.”
Kisner fired Rochelle second consecutive complete game on Tuesday, striking out seven LaSalle-Peru batters in the process. After the Hubs conclude their series with the Cavaliers on the road Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Rochelle’s chance at a conference title will likely come down to its three-game series with Sterling beginning Monday afternoon.
“I was throwing my fastball well and it was on target,” Kisner said. “We’ve been waiting to play Sterling since the beginning of the season and they’re one of our biggest rivals. We just need to start hitting the ball toward the beginning of the game.”