EUREKA – Gregory Cluskey (East Peoria, Ill./Metamora) cooked up a gem on the mound and the Eureka baseball team held off Westminster in a dramatic 10-7 victory over the Blue Jays on Monday afternoon at Henry Sand Field.
Cluskey, the right-handed senior ace, was dominant on the mound for most of the day, racking up a career-high 11 strikeouts in 125 pitches over 8 1/3 innings.
He held the Blue Jays to one run on three hits in the first seven innings, then continued to battle when his pitch count started adding up and the Blue Jays started stringing together hits in the last two.
"I got ahead early in a lot of counts – a lot of first-pitch strikes and that really put us in position to set up some pitches late in counts and get guys out," Cluskey said. "When we do that enough, we're going to win."
"I thought the performance by Greg Cluskey was just unbelievable," EC coach Jerry Rashid said. "He had a great energy and passion and competitiveness to him that we haven't had this year, and that was great to see."
The four-year veteran had a lot of help – both at the plate and in the field.
The Red Devils didn't commit a single error for the first time of the season and saw several big throws and plays made in the infield.
At the plate, the maroon and gold racked up a season-high 10 runs on a season-high 13 hits.
Senior Kyle Christman (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) went 3-for-5 with a two-run home run. Karter Hostetler (Morton, Ill./Morton) went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs, Dean Moir (Coal City, Ill./Coal City) went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and Dylan Hill (Steeleville, Ill./Steeleville) added two hits and two RBIs.
The Red Devils got off to a good start, plating three runs on four hits and one Westminster error in the first inning. Moir, Hostetler and Hill all recorded RBIs.
Westminster scored its first run in the third on two hits. After conceding the run, Cluskey struck out the next batter.
Two innings later, Jimmy Peterson (Bloomington, Ill./Homeschooled) and Christman both produced solo home runs to make it 1. Two innings after that, the Red Devils put together their best rally of the game, scoring four more on five hits. After Peterson was hit by a pitch, the team strung together four straight singles. Jelby Cheramie (Lockport, La./South Laforche) was then hit by a pitch, and then the hit parade continued with an RBI single by Hill.
His RBI single was preceded by RBI singles from Christman, Moir and Hostetler, all of which gave EC a 9-1 lead going into eighth.
The Blue Jays made things interesting in the game's penultimate frame. First, the visitors loaded the bases with a double, a walk and a single with one out. Then, Payton Whitehead blasted a grand slam over the fence, and a groundout later, Derek Shikles went yard with a solo shot to make it 9-6.
The Red Devils conferred on the mound, but left Cluskey in the game and he delivered another strikeout to end the inning.
Hostetler tacked on another RBI single in the bottom half to make it a four-run game, but it was clear that Cluskey was running out of gas on the mound.
Westminster's Austin Mayton doubled to lead off the inning, then Bryce McKinnon knocked one over the fence.
It was seemingly suddenly a two-run game. However, both Rashid and Moir noticed that for the second time in a 10-day span, an EC opponent didn't step on home plate following the trip around the bases. McKinnon literally skipped over the plate at the end of his celebration, so Moir eagerly retrieved the ball and stepped on the plate to record the highly unusual out, keeping it a three-run game.
After that, Trevor Wingard (Decatur, Ill./Meridian) took over for Cluskey to finish the job. The freshman got the first batter to fly out and struck out the last batter of the game to notch his first career save.
"I did not want to give the ball up," Cluskey said. "Coach about had to pry that out of my glove at the end of the ninth, but Trevor came in – freshman pitching well this year, very promising. He was able to close the game out. I had a lot of trust and I knew he'd do it."
The win was the team's first in SLIAC play this season and the 10th of Cluskey's pitching career at Eureka.
"It was great," Cluskey said, "especially with it being my last year. I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have to throw on that mound at Henry Sand. I love it and I'm looking forward to keeping it going."
Game 1: Westminster 10, Eureka 6
Game 1 had a similar score to Game 2, but it didn't have the same excitement.
Eureka scored first in after an RBI double by Christman in the first inning, but then Westminster accumulated 10 runs over the next three innings to make it 10-1.
The Red Devils finally got some offense going after racking up five runs on five hits in the sixth. Peterson came up to the plate with the bases loaded and drove in two with a single through the left side. Alex Barney (Sheldon, Ill./Milford) came up with a three-run homer in the next at-bat, driving in the last runs of the game.
Cheramie was the lone Red Devil to notch multiple hits.
Freshman lefty Colton Reed (Shelbyville, Ill./Shelbyville) took over for starter David Throw (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) after three tough innings and held the Blue Jays to just two unearned runs on three hits and one walk in four innings.
After the game, pitching coach Clint Stroud credited Reed for showing some fight and setting the tone for EC's strong performance in Game 2. The Red Devils will look to take Monday's momentum into this weekend's road series at Fontbonne.