The East Peoria Raiders may not have lived up to head baseball coach Matt Plummer’s expectations, but the postseason has arrived, which means it’s a new season.
That’s the motto for Plummer’s East Peoria squad.
The Raiders opened their “new season” with a 7-3 upset of Mid-Illini Conference rival Metamora in the first round of the IHSA Class 3A Metamora Regional on Monday.
East Peoria (7-23) was not firing all cylinders coming into Monday’s game.
The Raiders had lost three straight games and notched just two wins since April 29.
One of the two wins was against Metamora, on a day pitching dominated and Brayden Stewart out dueled Sam Brace in a 2-1 win on May 16.
“I just tried to throw a lot of strikes and trust the defense behind me,” Stewart said of the May 16 game. “I knew we would put some runs up eventually, and I just tried to keep it close to give us a good chance to win.”
Plummer said the win was huge for his team despite the “dark cloud” that’s surrounded his team this season.
Stewart, a pitcher and outfielder, used the May 16 win as a confidence builder in Monday’s regional game, finishing 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored in a win over the Redbirds.
“It definitely felt good finally breaking through and having a solid hitting performance,” Stewart said. “But, we knew we are a strong team if we string together hits and get to Metamora’s bullpen.”
The win over Metamora gives East Peoria momentum going into Wednesday’s David versus Goliath matchup against the regional top-seed Morton Potters.
While East Peoria earned its seventh win of the season on Monday, Morton (27-7), has only lost seven games all season.
The Potters enter the postseason with high hopes after racking up a school-record 31 wins last season, despite an early playoff exit in last season’s regional semifinal game.
Illinois Central College recruit Colin Dearing is the scheduled starter for East Peoria.
“Dearing is our best pitcher come regional time,” Plummer said. “He may not have been our best pitcher at the beginning of the season, but he was great in regional play last season.”
Stewart knows the keys to upsetting the Potters and advancing to the regional championship game.
“We just need a good outing by (Dearing) and play solid defense behind him,” Stewart said. “Capitalizing on scoring chances are key.”
In Dearing’s last start, the senior pitched a complete game but took the loss as the Raiders fell 1-0 to Metamora on May 18.
Dearing will try to give that kind of performance again at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.