The Imperial PeeWee team defeated Wallace, Grant and Sutherland on consecutive evenings last weekend to win the Tri-County League Championship for the first time since 1998.
First up for Imperial was Wallace last Thursday evening. Having defeated them 26–2 in the season, Imperial was confident, but Wallace showed up sharp, keeping the score 3–3 at the middle of the third.
In the bottom of the third, however, Imperial scored six then added three more in both the 4th and the fifth. Despite allowing four more runs, Imperial ended on top 18–7.
Bryce Zuege pitched five and a half innings, scoring nine strikeouts.
The team showed up on Friday to find Sutherland leading the #1 seed Paxton 11–3. Paxton rallied in the sixth and came within one run, but failed to advance to the final. Imperial took the field fired up to beat Grant and have a chance at the title.
Grant got one run across on a steal in the bottom of the first inning, and it stayed 1–0 through three quick innings.
Earlier in the season, Grant had beaten Imperial with good hitting and aggressive base running. They tried the same tactic in Paxton, but Jorge Cervantes, pitching for Imperial, quieted their bats, and the defense got numerous outs on pick-offs, pickles and steal attempts.
“We played the best game ever defensively and Jorge pitched the best game of his young career, facing only 17 hitters in five innings,” said Coach Larry Peterson.
In the fourth, with Grant still leading 1-0, Cervantes led off the with a hit, stole around to third and then got put out trying to steal the tying run on a passed ball.
At a decisive moment, Peterson said, “Instead of folding, our next seven hitters scored.”
The highlight was an in-the-park home run by Noah Griffin, scoring three. With a six run lead, the defense stayed tight, keeping Grant scoreless in the fourth and fifth.
Imperial put up two more in the top of the sixth and Grant scored one in the bottom, bringing the final score to 9–2.
Heading into Saturday evening, Peterson said, “We had mixed emotions about playing Sutherland in the championship instead of Paxton. We wanted a chance to beat Paxton but Sutherland beat us to it and we knew we would have our hands full against the upset-minded Sutherland squad.”
With Cody Hamilton pitching, Imperial kept Sutherland scoreless in the top of the first, then scored five in the bottom. But that lead was nearly wiped out in the second. With no one out and the bases loaded, Caleb Weiss came in to pitch and eventually got three strikeouts, but not before Sutherland scored four and threatened more with the bases loaded again as Imperial struggled with defensive errors.
“From there on, Caleb pitched the game of his life and got some defensive help to end their scoring for the game,” Peterson says.
Zack Space caught the full game, allowing very few passed balls and keeping the runners on their bases.
The emotional turning point of the game came in the fourth inning. With their lead batter on, Sutherland’s second batter hit a hard ball toward left field. Bryce Zuege at third stuck a glove out and snagged it, then threw out the runner scrambling to get back to first.
A few minutes later as Imperial batted in the bottom of the fourth, Cervantes lofted a homerun over the center field fence, scoring Weiss. Space followed with a triple and Will Kuenne hit him home, bringing the score to 10–4.
In the fifth, Imperial scored two more to end the gamewith a 12-4 score on a walk-off hit by Cervantes.
The dugout emptied and the team celebrated while fireworks went off in the outfield.
“I want to commend the young men on this team,” Peterson said. “They are not only good athletes but good examples and will accomplish a lot of things that will make their families, school and community proud.”
He thanked assistant Jonathan Beverly, who helped with the team’s speed, Bruce Peterson, who helped with the pitchers and Carl Zuege, who helped with coaching the hitters.
Imperial finished the season with an 11-2 record.