Going into Monday’s Class 3A North Central College Supersectional against Nazareth, Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen had all the confidence in the world in senior pitcher Kevin Peloza.
After all, Peloza had just pitched a shutout in the sectional semifinals, was 7-0 on the season and the Rams had not lost a game he pitched in all season.
“He’s the most [unheralded] pitcher in the state,” Whalen said. “We knew we were going up against a good team, but we liked our chances with our guy.”
Peloza didn’t just pitch the Rams to a 4-0 win and a berth in this weekend’s Class 3A state tournament in Joliet.
He tossed a no-hitter.
Peloza walked four and struck out six, retiring 13 of the last 14 Nazareth batters he faced.
“I didn’t know I had a no-hitter until they told me [after the game],” Peloza said. “It was awesome finding out. It’s great because this is what I wanted to do my senior year, go Downstate. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since freshman year.
Early on, Peloza put himself in a bind. A walk and an error to start off the second gave Nazareth (27-12-1) a great scoring chance. But Peloza got a strikeout and a double play to get out of the jam. Then in the third, Peloza hit a batter and walked the next two with two outs, but induced a groundout to end the threat and leave the bases loaded.
“In the second and third innings, I was really shaky,” Peloza said. “I think I was just finishing bad, off to the side. I just found my footing and the momentum carried through every batter.”
The Rams (27-13) scratched out an unearned run against Nazareth starter Jake Bartels in the second to give Peloza the lead. Then the Rams batted around in the sixth, plating three more runs to put the game away. Pat Burba had the big blow, an RBI-triple, and scored on a wild pitch in the rally.
“Once Pat got that hit, you kind of felt the air go out,” Whalen said. “You felt our kids relax a little bit.”
But it was a long top of the inning and Peloza’s pitch count was escalating. An assistant coach had to remind Whalen that he had a no-hitter going, so he left Peloza in to finish it off. As the game moved along, Peloza kept getting stronger. He struck out the first two batters of the seventh before a groundout sent the Rams into a jubilant celebration.
“I’m extremely surprised that we got no-hit, because we’ve hit all year long,” Nazareth assistant coach John Sime said. “In fact, we can’t remember if our program has ever been no-hit before. It was just one of those days. He did a great job.”
The Rams head to Silver Cross Field in Joliet Friday at 10 a.m. to face St. Francis in the state semifinals.
“Everyone told us that we would never be here, but we’re here, and that’s the best thing, to prove everyone wrong,” Peloza said.