BASEBALL: Grace Christian fends off Iroquois West in 10-8 win
KANKAKEE — Overcoming six errors well enough to secure a victory is no easy task, but Grace Christian managed to do just that in its 10-8 win at home against Iroquois West on Friday, thanks to a relentlessly aggressive approach both at the plate and on the basepaths.
After allowing the Raiders to pick up a quick run in the top of the first, the Crusaders hit the ground in a full sprint. They only needed to see five pitches in order to knot things up at one after back-to-back hits in their first two at bats.
Raiders starting pitcher Aiden Tilstra appeared to settle in after surrendering the lead by retiring the next two batters, but the Crusaders’ bats weren’t done just yet.
Two walks, a wild pitch and a pair of RBI singles produced a small, two-out rally to pick up three more runs and establish a 4-1 lead they would never relinquish.
At times, however, it seemed the Crusaders were doing everything they could to give the lead away. The Raiders never managed to climb back enough to draw even, but they were never more than a few at bats away from closing the gap, either.
As Grace’s defensive play threatened to devolve from a liability into a full-blown emergency, Iroquois West’s footsteps got louder and louder.
But the clutch hits never came for the Raiders. They had little trouble getting baserunners down the stretch but never managed to crest that final hill and stranded runners in scoring position in three of the final four innings.
The Crusaders deserve some credit for hunkering down and limiting their mistakes well enough to mitigate the damage inflicted by their defensive miscues but also enjoyed the good fortune of watching the visitors falter in big spots.
Iroquois West committed three errors of its own, but they came in much more manageable situations and didn’t play as big a factor in the result. The Raiders’ staff’s biggest problems came as a result of its the aggressive play of its host.
The Crusaders swiped seven bases and struck a nice balance between attacking the ball and working the count. They kept the pressure high from the first pitch to the final out.
“I coach this team to play like their hair is on fire,” Crusaders coach Jeff Cross said. “We want them to go-go-go, and if they make an out, they make an out. That’s all there is to it. I never want them to be afraid to go all out.
It would have been easy for a squad as young as Grace Christian to panic after hearing the Raiders’ footsteps inning after inning, but the Crusaders did an admirable job of keeping a cool enough head to stave off a collapse.
“I’m happy with these guys. We teach tenacity and grit, and when those kids show that, we know good things can start to happen,” Cross said. “I think we’ve improved quite a bit in that way.”
Jordan Isaacs went 2-3 with a double, a stolen base, two runs and three RBIs for the Crusaders.
Dane Denault swiped three bags as part of his day that included two hits, a run and two RBIs. Nate Kemnetz also had a pair of hits and scored twice.
Zach McGuirt earned the win, allowing seven runs, but just two earned, on three hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Kade Kimmel went 2-4 with two stolen bases and two runs for the Raiders. Tilstra and Hunter Meyer also had hits, while Meyer scored twice.
The Crusaders will travel to Big Rock today to take on Crossroads Christian at 10:30 a.m. The Raiders will travel to Dwight for a 4:30 p.m. game Tuesday.