From Jason Wegner’s first swing, Naperville Central set the tone Wednesday in Wheaton.
Wegner’s first-pitch line single sparked a two-run Redhawks first inning, and pitcher Pat Maloney took it from there as DuPage Valley Conference leader Naperville Central won the opener of an important three-game series with Wheaton North 4-1.
The Redhawks (18-9, 13-3) moved three games clear of Wheaton North (14-11, 10-6) and Wheaton Warrenville South with two games left against the Falcons.
“It’s important to come out and show a team what we can do,” Maloney said. “[Wheaton North] is a good team; it’s nice to come out and get the first game of the series. Hopefully we can get two and three the next few days.”
Wegner lined a first-pitch fastball from Wheaton North’s Sam Lawrence to start the game, Bobby McMillen followed with a four-pitch walk and Brendon Daley singled in Wegner before anybody was out. Kevin Clifford beat out a potential double-play ball to score McMillen, quickly making it 2-0.
Wegner later doubled and scored a run in the third, and singled in a run in the fifth.
An aggressive approach preached by his coaches paid off.
“Coach always tells us to jump on the fastball first time up, because that’s usually what you’re going to see first time around,” Wegner said. “And it helps the other guys to get a feel for the pitcher.”
Maloney gave back a run on Greg Sells’ single in the Wheaton North half of the first, but shut the door after navigating the early rough patch.
The big 6-6 righty brushed off a two-on, none-out jam in the fourth, started locating his offspeed pitches to complement a popping fastball and went the distance, striking out nine. Even though it was just a three-run margin, it seemed a greater cushion with Maloney in command.
“Pat was great. He’s just a competitor,” Redhawks coach Mike Stock said. “His stuff is good, but his greatest asset is he’s a competitor. He’s worked real hard that when he walks a guy or makes a mistake of not letting that become two mistakes. It’s a big improvement we’ve seen from his junior to senior year.”
Maloney appreciated a little early support from his teammates on a brisk May afternoon hardly conducive to hitting.
“It’s really underestimated how much it helps working with the lead,” Maloney said. “When they get runs on the board early it’s all the help in the world.”
Wheaton North had a pair of golden opportunities go by the wayside early.
Michael Mannix tripled and Andrew Hrgich walked with two out in the second, but a walk-off play didn’t work with Maloney tagging out Hrgich for the third out. Sells’ double to lead off the fourth went for naught, and Wheaton North never reached second again.
The Falcons also committed four errors, an errant pickoff leading to one run.
“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively against a very good arm,” Falcons coach Dan Schoessling said. “When we have chances we have to take advantage of them. He was very good today. Tip your hat and move on to tomorrow.”