By Bob Kopp

BDR Sports Correspondent

BELVIDERE – Anybody who knows anything about baseball knew this would be a challenging year for Bucs baseball.

With first-team all-conference captains Tyler Lass and Ryan McKnight having matriculated to the next level of competition at Northwestern and Monmouth respectively and only two returning senior starters in Ryan Snyder and Matt Kopp with the latter still hoping to recover from a broken foot in time for a serious post-season run, Head Coach Andrew Walters has had his work cut out for him.

Borrowing from a time-honored adage, Coach Walters has reminded the team that challenges reveal doesn’t build character.
While Walters and his able staff have spent countless hours and restless nights trying to build skills and encourage aptitude for the game, they have also been adamant about respecting the game; and if I have to tell you what respecting the game is all about, you wouldn’t understand anyway.

With several starters being disciplined and out of the starting line-up and Kopp still sidelined, challenges and respect were in Walters’ head, heart, and gut as he made the tough decision to ask JV Head Coach John Fish to send up some of his best sophomores to fill in the holes for a game against arch-rival-in-all-sports Freeport.

In a close game in which the Bucs ultimately prevailed 4-3 in a finish that kept chilly fans bolted to their seats, Walters never succumbed to the temptation to return players to the game who needed a disciplining lesson on challenges and respect.

Like all games with the Pretzels in any sport, the game went down to the wire.

Buc senior Erik Moraza and Pretzel senior Ben Swords kept the game scoreless with solid pitching performances until senior Drake Dutz singled in the bottom of the third and scored after moving to third on a single by junior Jacob Rodriguez and crossing home on an error.

The game remained 1-0 in favor of the Bucs until the top of the sixth thanks to a double-play in the top of the fifth by junior Kolton Morris and junior Austin Brockmann as Morris dove to his right from his position at second base, snared a hot liner, and threw to Brockmann from his knees to end the threat and maintain the slim 1-0 lead for Belvidere.

Freeport exploded for three runs in the top of the sixth and took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh as sophomore Brady Hauser shut down the Pretzels in the top of the seventh with a strikeout and two feeble pop-up outs.

Belvidere walked all over Freeport in the bottom of the seventh; scoring three runs on six walks to end the game 4-3.

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