Raiders vault into title chase

Bryan Veginski
The East Peoria baseball team swept Dunlap last week to pull even with Washington atop the Mid-Illini Conference standings. Senior Mitch Gnehm laid down a perfect bunt on a sixth-inning suicide squeeze to score two runs during a 7-0 road victory over the Eagles.

East Peoria came back from an early two-run deficit May 5 to derail the Dunlap baseball team.

Kevin Ulrich won his fourth straight Mid-Illini Conference start as the Raiders prevailed, 5-3, at Dave Rodgers Field.

The lefthander registered five strikeouts and no walks going the distance in a five-hitter.

Ryan Slusher was 2-for-3 for East Peoria, while Noah Hornung and Brock Stewart knocked in runs.

The Eagles, who are having one of their better seasons in recent years, plated two runs in the top of the first inning.

The game still was tied when the Raiders went ahead to stay with the final two runs in the home half of the fourth.

Mitch Gnehm, Jakob Burtis and Slusher strung together consecutive hits during the key segment.

EP 7, Dunlap 0

The Raiders registered their sixth shutout in the last eight conference games May 7.

Stewart limited the host Eagles to two hits in a complete game that stretched the team’s winning streak in league games to eight. He had two strikeouts and two walks.

“Another impressive lefthanded outing,” EPCHS head coach Matt Plummer said. “That seems to be commonplace for these lefties these days.”

The Ulrich-Stewart combination has been posting zeroes at an unbelievable rate.

The day got even better for East Peoria (13-10, 8-2) when Washington lost, 6-3, vs. Limestone.

That created a tie between the Raiders and Panthers atop the M-I. The Rockets are a game back at 7-3.

East Peoria was set to play two-game M-I series against Pekin (3-7) Monday and Wednesday, followed by Morton (3-7) May 19 and May 21.

Washington faces Metamora (5-5) in week six, followed by Canton (2-8) in the final two-game set.

Limestone meets Dunlap (4-6) twice before playing Metamora in a week-seven series.

The Raiders will be at a postseason level well before regional tournaments start statewide.

“If we can stay in the hunt, that makes every game have a playoff atmosphere,” said Plummer. “We’re just really glad to be in the hunt.”

Scoreless until the fifth inning, East Peoria had a four-run outburst to put the Eagles in a big hole.

The Raiders tacked on three runs in the sixth to put away the game.

Hornung was 3-for-4, while Gnehm provided four RBIs.

Gnehm knocked in the final two runs with a perfectly-placed bunt on a suicide squeeze.

Jake Plummer, Stewart, Burtis and Gnehm all had two hits.

Stewart made a head-first dive in the fifth to safely reach base and spark what turned out to be a profitable inning.

Slusher and Hornung chipped in RBIs for an offense that generated 11 hits.

The sparkling pitching in conference games has taken the pressure off the East Peoria batters.

“The pitching performances have alleviated the stress of scoring six, seven, eight runs,” Plummer said.

The Raiders executed well, including a key catch in left field by Aaron Scully, and used their experience to not get down when they were tied through four frames.

“These guys are pretty hungry,” said Plummer. “They know how to play the game the way we want to play it.”