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Friday, February 23, 2024

Neuqua Valley claims Sectional Title and 35th win


Time after time this spring, Neuqua Valley’s vaunted lineup has eventually figured out ways to beat good pitching.

On Saturday – with a sectional title on the line against third-seeded Plainfield North – that figured to be no different.

Much like it’s been for major parts of the year, it was the top of that deep lineup that turned the tide during the Class 4A Oswego Sectional Final.

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Consecutive two-out RBI singles in the fourth from shortstop James Gargano and second baseman Ryan Wheeler helped propel the top-seeded Wildcats to a 5-3 victory.

Neuqua Valley second baseman Ryan Wheeler turns a double play in the 4A Oswego Sectional Final against Plainfield North.

“When it came at the end there, we just knew we had to get some runs,” Gargano said.

Tigers’ junior Brady Miller – over the course of 86 pitches in 3 2/3 innings – learned the lesson so many others have picked up on.

Give Neuqua Valley time to piece some hits together and more times than not, it will do so.

“He’s a great pitcher,” the Butler-bound Gargano said of Miller. “He was throwing really good stuff. He was getting his curveball over for strikes, his changeup, his fastball. He was getting all three pitches over for strikes.”

While the middle four hitters in the Wildcat lineup went a combined 3-for-12, Gargano and Wheeler were more than ready to pick up the slack.

“I’m just lucky to hit behind (Gargano),” Wheeler said. “I know he’s going to get on base a lot of the time, so when a guy gets on base that much, I just try to hit him in or get him over.”

Winners of 11 straight games, Neuqua Valley (35-1-1) meets St. Laurence – a 2-1 winner over Brother Rice – Monday night at 7:30 in the Class 4A Crestwood Super-Sectional.

[shareprints gallery_id=”74494″ gallery_type=”squares” gallery_position=”pos_center” gallery_width=”width_100″ image_size=”small” image_padding=”2″ theme=”dark” image_hover=”false” lightbox_type=”slide” comments=”false” sharing=”true”]Their 35th victory ties the 2007 team that won the Class AA state title for the most in program history as they claimed the program’s fifth sectional title.

Presented with a rematch with Plainfield North after last season’s sectional final loss, the Wildcats were hell bent on rewriting the script.

Neuqua Valley left-hander Justin Hicks delivers a pitch against Plainfield North on June 3, 2017.

Five innings of work from senior left-hander Justin Hicks was a step in that direction.

Hicks fanned six and allowed just two runs before giving way to Mason LeBreck for the final two innings.

After watching a tough Minooka lineup make him grind through five innings last week, Hicks got back on script in improving to 8-0 on the year.

“It felt good. After the first inning, I settled in,” said Hicks, who threw 86 pitches. “Last week, I think there was a lot of adrenaline involved. That experience really helped me (Saturday) stay calm.”

For the third straight game, Neuqua Valley fell behind as Plainfield North (28-10) scratched across a run in the top of the second.

Tim Schneider’s first of two RBIs – a sacrifice fly to center – tied the game at 1-1 in the second.

The RBI singles from Gargano and Wheeler’s RBI singles highlighted the three-run fourth that helped drive Miller from the game.

“Brady Miller was going to pitch and not (Brady) Corrigan and not (Connor) Peplow. I give them so much credit because they’ve all this without their best guy (Corrigan),” Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner said of Plainfield North. “And they’ve just continued to scrap and scrape and play hard. They just don’t give up. And it’s a credit to our guys that they were able to persevere through that.”

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Blake Baumgartner
Blake Baumgartner
Raised in Naperville, Blake Baumgartner is a 2001 Naperville Central alumnus and a 2005 graduate of Michigan State's School of Journalism. Since March 2010, he has covered football, boys' basketball and baseball for both The Naperville Sun and Positively Naperville. Follow him on Twitter @BFBaumgartner.


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