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MONTICELLO — On last Tuesday’s bus ride to Monticello, John Frerichs was watching highlights of Addison Russell.
The Chicago Cubs’ star shortstop’s defensive show-stopping ability was catching Frerichs’ eyes, who mans the same position for Rantoul’s baseball team.
Maybe it was that inspiration from the All-Star that helped Frerichs make the game’s biggest defensive play against the Sages in a 14-8 win.
After the Eagles plated four runs in the top of the frame, they held a 4-3 advantage in the bottom of the third.
With two outs, a full count and runners on second and third base, Frerichs corralled a well-hit ball with a terrific over-the-shoulder grab that saved two runs from scoring.
“I was watching some of those plays on the way over here, so I guess that could’ve helped,” Frerichs said with a laugh. “That’s not really something you work on in practice, but I just started going back on it and realized I needed to jump and came down with it.”
Frerichs has been working to improve on his defense, and it showed with that play, which ended up being exactly the type of spark plug the Eagles needed to spring them to the six-run Okaw Valley Conference win.
(That was) kind of an energy play,” Rantoul coach Jon Donovan said. “The guys fed off that play, and it changed the game. It’s one of those times where a defensive play changes things and gives you energy offensively. It was a great play.”
Rantoul gave up three early runs to dig itself a hole, but it crawled back in the third inning.
Nolan Roseman reached low to scoop and smack a 2-1 pitch to right-center field for an RBI double. Frerichs sparked Rantoul with his bat, hitting a single past the shortstop for an RBI.
The throw in from left field went to home plate, but an overthrow led to Frerichs — already hustling to second on the throw home — sliding safely into third. The Sages’ throw into third was also errant, and Frerichs sprinted home to cross the plate for a 3-3 tie.
Josh Frerichs then singled and stole second before JT Jones poked an RBI single to right field.
After John Frerichs’ momentum-boosting defensive play in the third, Luke Jones blasted a double to deep left field. Josh Frerichs followed that up three batters later by smoking a triple to left-center field for a 5-3 Eagles lead.
“We came out kind of sluggish towards the beginning,” John Frerichs said. “We weren’t really being aggressive at the plate. Defensively, they were finding some gaps. Right off the bat, it just wasn’t looking that good. But eventually we started getting our run, and we started getting into it and the at-bats came right after the other, and the score tallied up.”
After Monticello closed the gap with a run in the fourth, Rantoul exploded for eight runs in the fifth to open up a 13-4 lead.
The Sages added two in the sixth, the Eagles got one back in the seventh, and Monticello tacked on another in the final frame and threatened again but could not complete what would have been a massive comeback.
“We knew they were going to be a solid team. They are every single year,” John Frerichs said. “We just knew we were going to have to bring our A-game if we were going to compete with them.”
“Offensively, they looked a lot better (last Tuesday),” Donovan said. “Everybody throughout the lineup had a better approach, we weren’t swinging at pitches out of the zone. We were driving the ball through the zone.”
Garet Kinnett finished 3-for-4, and Adam Crites, who threw 6 1/3 innings and allowed eight runs (six earned), finished 2-for-3 at the dish with three RBI.
Lighting a fire
Last Monday, Rantoul faced Maroa-Forsyth, but the game was called due to rain after the Eagles found themselves trailing 4-2 through four innings. But Donovan was not happy with what he saw.
“I challenged a couple of the players (last Tuesday) before the game,” Donovan said. “I just thought, offensively, they weren’t swinging the bats with aggression. And I also was not happy with our performance (last Monday) against Maroa. I told the guys if that game would’ve continued, we would’ve been practicing when we got back to Wabash. That’s how upset I was with the pregame performance. I think that lit a fire in them a little bit and gave them a spark.”
Déjà vu all over again
After the win, Donovan was optimistic about the Eagles’ chances of capturing an OVC championship crown. Every team in the league was 1-1 heading into last Tuesday’s game, meaning the win gave Rantoul at least a tie for first place.
“They know what’s at stake,” Donovan said. “They understand what they can do in conference now. We can compete with anybody. Now we’re going after a conference title. It’s that simple. … We’ve got a shot.”
Just like last week, though, the Eagles handled a conference opponent with an easy win on Tuesday, only to fall to the same club on Thursday at home.
Last week was St. Thomas More, this week was Monticello, which beat Rantoul 12-7 at Wabash Park. It was a bit of history repeating itself from last year, too, as the Eagles went in to Monticello in 2016 and won before getting dominated by the Sages at home a couple days later.
Rantoul lost to Charleston 6-1 on Wednesday, the day before the second matchup with Monticello.
The Eagles (7-7) swept Kankakee on Saturday at Wabash Park in a doubleheader to get back over the .500 mark but fell 4-2 to Mattoon on Monday.
In the first game, a 4-2 win, Rantoul broke a 1-1 tie with a three-run fifth inning on a sacrifice fly, an RBI single by Chad Vermillion and another run-scoring single by JT Jones.
Jared Jordahl grabbed the win, pitching five innings and allowing three hits and one unearned run.
In the second game, the Eagles won handily in a 9-0 decision, led by Luke Jones’ 3-for-3 day and Roseman’s 2-for-4, two-run performance.
The Eagles tallied two runs in the first and five in the second to take command early, and Kinnett pitched 3 1/3 innings in a start, allowing no runs on three hits with five strikeouts.
Contact Zack Carpenter at email@example.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11.