Parkview, Turner baseball honor memory of Orfordville soldier
ORFORDVILLE Nearly one year ago, citizens here kept their porch lights on while they waited for the body of Cpl. Benjamin Neal to be brought home.
Neal was serving with the United States Army when an improvised explosive device killed him on April 25, 2012, in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the community rallied once again, this time around a baseball diamond at Purdy Park. The high school teams from Orfordville Parkview High and Beloit Turner High each wore camouflage uniforms in honor of Neal and T-shirts were sold, with proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.
"You see things on TV and you don't really think about it until it hits home," said Troy Aasen, who coaches a Parkview team that includes Neal's younger brother, Brendan.
Brendan Neal reached base all nine times that he made a plate appearance in Tuesday's doubleheader. The two teams split the twinbill, Turner taking the first game 5-3 and Parkview rebounding with a 10-1 victory.
"There's a lot of support around here and it does mean a lot," Neal said. "Things are a lot easier when you have people who love you. We're all real close."
In the pregame, Orfordville's American Legion presented the colors. Becca, sister of Brendan and Ben Neal, sang the national anthem.
"Anything we can do to be a part of an event like this, especially with such a close-knit community, to honor Brendan's brother like this is a pretty cool thing," Turner coach Jeff Klowes said. "We're just honored to be a part of it."
On the diamond, Tuesday's first game played out as expected between the two teams expected to duke it out for a Rock Valley Conference South title.
Parkview, ranked No. 1 in Division 3 by the state's baseball coaches to open the season, took a 3-0 lead when it scored a pair of runs in the third inning, stringing together four straight singles against Turner's Bo Hutchison to open the frame.
Hutchison settled in from there, however, and the Trojans' bats came alive in the fifth. Evan Metzger, Zach Virgin and Clayton Stenulson each notched a hit and scored to tie the game.
In the first extra inning, Cole Gerber parlayed a leadoff single into what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Hutchison went the distance and struck out seven batters.
"He had some trouble early, and I was kind of wondering which way we were going to go," said Klowes, whose team is also ranked in Division 2. "He was finally able to get ahead and locate his curveball late in the game and that made all the difference in the world."
The second game was all Parkview from the first pitch. The first five Trojans hitters found a way on base and all went on to score.
Neal finished 3-for-3, adding two walks and scoring three runs in the victory.
"It felt good; I had a rough weekend in a doubleheader we had, so I was kind of focused on getting some hits tonight," he said. "(Last year) baseball helped a lot with getting my mind off things—focusing on the game and trying not to think about things too much."
Standout pitcher Jameson Lavery pitched five innings, several times working his way out of jams and eventually striking out 12 batters.
Afterward, thoughts remained with the Neal family.
"Last year we kind of went through (Neal's death) and had a stretch of a couple weeks where kids really realized that there's a lot of other things more important than baseball," Aasen said.
TURNER 5, PARKVIEW 3 (8 inn.)
Turner 000 030 02—5 13 3
Parkview 012 000 00—3 8 3
Hutchison and Metzger; Aasen, Strzok (6) and Lavery, Aasen.
Leading hitters—Metzger (BT) 2x4; Virgin (BT) 3x5; Stenulson (BT) 2x5; Noack (BT) 2x4; Gerber (BT) 2x4; Neal (P) 2x4; Thole (P) 2x3. 2B—Stenulson (BT).
SO—Hutchison 7, Aasen 4, Strzok 3. BB—Hutchison 1, Aasen 1, Strzok 1.
PARKVIEW 10, TURNER 1
Parkview 510 102 1—10 15 1
Turner 000 000 1—1 7 1
Stenulson, Hughes (1), Granberg (6) and Metzger; Lavery, Henning (6) and Aasen.
Leading hitters—Virgin (BT) 2x2; Hauri (P) 3x4; Neal (P) 3x3; Aasen (P) 2x4; Lavery (P) 2x4; Nardehl (P) 2x3. 2B—Metzer (BT), Virgin (BT), Kunkel (BT); Hauri (P); Neal (P) 2.
SO—Hughes 8, Granberg 2, Lavery 12, Henning 3. BB—Hughes 1, Granberg 2, Lavery 6, Henning 1.