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ROANOKE – Make no mistake, Ottawa Marquette is the king of Tri-County Conference baseball, backed by the fact they have won the last five league titles. The Crusaders finished 11-1 in the TCC and 30-4 overall on their way to a fourth place finish in one A for 2018. OM’s lone defeat in the league came to Roanoke-Benson/Lowpoint-Washburn.

“They’re going to be freaking good again,” stated Rockets’ coach Wade Hunter of the Crusaders. “We split with them last year. Anytime you beat them twice, you’re probably going to win the conference.”

With Seneca coming aboard, TCC squads will now be playing 14 league games instead of 12.

“I like the home and home. It’s give a true conference champion,” said Hunter, who is in his fifth year with a 59-60 record.

RBLW went 16-14 a season ago and won a regional before they lost 12-5 to OM in the Bloomington Sectional held at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Jack Horenberger Field. They placed three players on the TCC first team, one of whom graduated in outfielder-shortstop-pitcher Sam Hodel (5-1 pitching record). They do return the other two in seniors in catcher Jarrett Bline (.454 average) and Jake Weber (.419) at second base. Also back is senior first sacker and Illinois Central College recruit Ben Monge and a pair of juniors in Jason Tallyn (third) and Jack Weber (outfield). The Rockets scored 195 runs a season ago (6.5 per game).

The Rockets will bunt as much as any high school team around.

“I do not want to announce that, but that’s what put us into the regional championship. We suicide squeezed in the second inning,” recalled Hunter of a 1-0 victory over host Blue Ridge.

Beside Hodel, RBLW also graduated pitcher Daniel Kennell (5-5), who weaved a gem to knock off OM 2-1. The Weber brothers and Monge will see innings on the mound. The Rockets permitted 172 runs (5.7 per game) in 2018.

“I do not want to put my eggs in one basket, but I think Ben can have a good year,” commented Hunter. “Him being left-handed helps. I feel if we had to play Thursday, I would approach it as we would throw five or six. I’ll be happy with the pitching staff as long as they keep guys off base.”

From a defensive perspective, RBLW will be strong along the infield, but some inexperience lingers in the outfield.

“I’m ok with the guys we’re putting out there,” Hunter said. “The last six or seven years, we’ve had guys who can cover ground. We have four legitimate guys who can play infield and outfield.

The schedule appears below (all games will start @ 4:30 p.m. unless noted):

Thursday: versus Brimfield/Elmwood

Saturday: @ Tremont, 10 a.m.

Monday: vs. Seneca*

March 19: vs. El Paso-Gridley, 4 p.m.

March 20: vs. Fieldcrest @ the middle school

March 22: vs. Greenfield, 4 & vs. Humboldt, 6:30 p.m. both @ Humboldt, Tenn.

March 23: vs. Peabody @ Trenton, Tenn., 2 p.m.

March 24: vs. University School @ Jackson, Tenn., 4 p.m.

March 28: vs. Eureka @ the middle school

March 30: @ Hartsburg-Emden, 10 a.m.

April 1: @ Seneca*

April 2: @ Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland*

April 4: vs. F-C-W*

April 6: @ Metamora, 10 a.m.

April 9: vs. Peoria Christian*

April 11: @ Peoria Ch.* @ Woodruff Field

April 12: vs. Heyworth

April 15: @ Le Roy

April 16: @ Midland*

April 17: vs. Stark County @ Toulon

April 18: vs. Midland*

April 20: @ Dwight, 11 a.m.

April 23: vs. OM* @ Masinelli Field

April 25: vs. OM*

April 26: vs. Illinois Valley Central @ Chillicothe

April 27: @ Deer Creek-Mackinaw, 10 a.m.

April 30: vs. Putnam Co.*

May 2: vs. Putnam Co.* @ Granville

May 3: vs. Earlville/Leland

May 4: vs. Ridgeview, 10 a.m.

May 6: vs. Henry*

May 7: @ Henry*

May 11: vs. Peoria Heights, 10 a.m.

May 13-18: Regional @ home

*-TCC game

Notes: There are a total of 21 players in the program, none of which hail from L-W. RBLW added the four games in the Volunteer State at the start of spring break. They are no longer part of the Cougar Open at Mason City-based Illini Central. Putnam Co. (22-9-1) exceeded 20 wins, but like the Rockets, their season ended with a loss to OM by a score of 8-2 in the sectional final at IWU. B/E went 27-7 and lost 12-0 in five innings to eventual two A champion and ex-TCC member Spring Valley Hall (30-3) at the Moline Supersectional. RBLW hosted the regional in both ’14 and ’15, the latter of which they won.

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