Garard’s Gem: Red Devils Nearly No-Hit Knox, 7-1

Photo by Kayla Enochs.
Photo by Kayla Enochs.

NORMAL, Ill. – Eureka baseball coach Jerry Rashid told junior pitcher Nathan Garard (Gibson City, Ill./Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley) that he wanted to see him compete on Wednesday.

Garard took the directive to heart, answering the call with a 14-strikeout performance and nearly completing a no-hitter in a 7-1 non-conference victory over Knox at the Corn Crib. It was the most strikeouts in a game by a Eureka pitcher since Isaiah Taylor fanned 17 in a 6-2 win at Iowa Wesleyan on April 13, 2018.

"You kind of want to zone in," Garard said of his mindset. "You want to block off all the background noise and understand that there's trust from your catcher, there's trust from everybody else out there. I would probably say that just having trust in the rest of the people around you gives you the confidence to go to the next level."

Garard struck out the first three batters and retired the first nine in order. Knox reached on a fielding error in the fourth, drew a walk in the fifth and made things interesting with a walk, a pair of fielder's choices and an error in the eighth, but Garard's no-hitter was still intact heading into the ninth inning.

Through eight innings, Garard had struck out nearly half the batters he had faced (13/28).

In the ninth, he got Knox's Ben Bartholomew swinging for his 14th K of the day. Then, Jason Clark stepped up to the plate and singled through the right side to break up the no-no.

When he handed the ball off to Mason Diederich (Washington, Ill./Washington) to finish it off, he'd thrown 108 pitches.

Garard said he didn't feel pressure mounting or fatigue creeping in as he got closer to the finish line. He just tried to stay on his feet and in-tune with the game.

"It doesn't do you any good to sit down and think about what you've already done," Garard said. "This game is all about the present and the very next thing you have (to do) after a play."

It had been quite a while since Garard had gone deep into a game on the mound like that.

He sat out last spring to play football, and the year before that, he only had the chance to throw six innings in four appearances before the season ended early after just 14 games due to COVID-19. However, he said he had been diligently following the team's offseason training schedule and felt pretty good coming into the season.

"Every day I was in the garage with a little net and using some old dumbbells to hold it on the ground so I wouldn't break the walls in my dad's garage," Garard said. "It's kind of sticking to that grind and knowing you're going to come out on the other end ahead of the competition."

There was no doubt the Red Devils were ahead of the competition on Wednesday.

While Garard and the defense were sitting down batter after batter in the field, the team's batting order was productive at the plate. Eureka scored seven runs on nine hits. Six different Red Devils recorded hits and three posted multi-hit performances.

Eureka started it off by scoring three runs on two hits and two errors in the first inning. Braden Cox (Washington, Ill./Illini Bluffs/Black Hawk) singled up the middle to drive in Jimmy Peterson (Bloomington, Ill./Homeschooled/Monmouth), who reached on a fielder's choice. After Peterson and Cox each stole a base, Karter Hostetler (Morton, Ill./Morton) knocked an RBI single to right and Diederich made it 3-0 with a sac fly RBI on the next at-bat.

In the second, freshman Nick Rulevish (Addieville, Ill./Okawville) drove in Austin Davis (Eureka, Ill./Eureka) with an RBI single up the middle for his first collegiate hit and RBI.

The Red Devils loaded the bases and left three stranded in the third, but they came back and tallied three more runs in the fourth.

Leadoff hitter Caleb Wilson (Houma, La./Covington Christian) opened the rally with a walk and Rulevish singled to put two on for Peterson. The senior stepped up to the plate and belted a two-run double into the gap to make it 6-0. He would later advance to third on a wild pitch and score on a sac fly RBI by Hostetler to extend the lead to seven runs.

Rulevish, Cox and Hostetler all finished with two hits in the win. Hostelter and Peterson each had two RBIs, while Cox and Peterson both doubled.

Cox, a junior who transferred Black Hawk, is one of a handful of newcomers who have joined the program and already made a difference.

"Braden Cox has stepped up tremendously as a leader," Garard said. "Coming in, first year in the program, and his attitude and mentality is just contagious. His love of the game is contagious."

With the win, the Red Devils improved to 2-2 on the season. They've had three strong pitching starts and have been competitive in three of their four games so far.

Garard says that the team is full of leaders and players who are finding ways to contribute.

"When we have guys who know how to trust each other and be selfless," he said, "you get games like the one we just played."