Much like river flooding and I-74 Bridge construction, Moline meeting United Township for the Western Big 6 Conference softball crown has become a sure sign of spring.
Since Alleman won the title in 2000, only the Maroons (eight times) and Panthers (four times) have sat on the league throne, meeting nearly as many times head-to-head for the crown, and unbeaten like both are today in Big 6 play.
That's a credit to the constant in the series, thehead coaches in the border battle, Moline's Mark Gerlach and UT's John Alonzo, who have done much more than match wits the last 14 seasons.
"I first met Mark when I coached his daughter Alicia as a 9-year-old in her first season of ASA ball,'' Alonzo said, recalling a memorable 1989 season for the 12-and-under Heartland Lil' Hearts."So we've known each other for a long, long time.''
Gerlach actually followed Alonzo into softball coaching that next year, assisting Butch Woner with the Lil' Hearts when Alonzo moved up to Heartland's 14-and-under Heartbreakers to continue coaching his daughter Yolanda.
Their paths also crossed before the 1997 high-school season, when Alonzo was picked over UT alum Gerlach, the other finalist for the UT softball job.
"John and I were the only two who applied,'' Gerlach joked. "John, of course, got it, but then I followed him again a couple of years later (in 2000) when I got the Moline job.''
Since then, each has enjoyed success, with both nearing the magic 400 career win mark.
Gerlach has matched those eight Big 6 titles with eight regional crowns, six state trophies and state titles in 2006 and 2011.
Alonzo's resume includes six Big 6 crowns, six regional titles and a fourth-place state finish in 2003.
Together they combined to win 60 games last season, with Moline's defending state titlists finally unseating UT's two-time defending league champs for Big 6 honors.
"It's been a great rivalry over the years,'' Gerlach said. "There have been a lot of years we brought home a state trophy and didn't win the conference. That tells you something. The competition has made us both better.''
That's been historically true.Since the conference began offering softball in 1979, Moline (21 titles, 16 outright) and UT (10 titles, eight outright) are 1-2 in the Big 6 standings for diamond championships.Together, the schools have 16 state softball trophies led by Moline's six state titles.
"But while it's been a great rivalry, it's also been more friendly than I think it used to be,'' Gerlach said. "John and I have been friends for a long time. His assistant Shannon DeLaRosa also played eight years of ASA ball for me.''
"So we end up having a lot of respect for each other,'' Alonzo added. "We wish each other nothing but the best. If it's not us, we hope it's them, and I know they feel the same way.''
The similarities between the coaches and their programs is striking.
"Mark and I are both competitors at heart,'' Alonzo said. "And, because we're so much alike as programs, I think that's why our kids all look forward to this doubleheader every year.We both emphasize pitching and playing great defense. We both can play the short game, but we've also evolved to realize there's more offense now. The bottom line is we both play the game right.''
Both also use their bench and play a lot of kids, putting players into a number of situations they hope will pay off come the postseason.
"You never know when somebody's going to need to step up,'' Gerlach said. "Everybody is practicing to get to the top, so we try and give everyone a chance, and earn their time when the postseason rolls around, when the roles and lineups are a little more settled.''
Both coaches also are officials.Gerlach has refereed basketball for 30 years, and umpired slowpitch softball before starting to coach. Alonzo has worked the last 18 summers in ASA and Iowa softball circles.
"I think that does bring a different perspective,'' Gerlach said. "John and I really don't get that worked up. Maybe that's because we're just more naturally even keel. But it also has to do with us doing the job before and understanding those guys are human and they're doing their best for all of the kids.''
Just like today's two head coaches.
Western Big 6 Conference standings
BIG 6 BASEBALL
Conf. Over. W-L W-L Alleman 6-0 16-0 Galesburg 5-1 16-5 Moline 2-4 11-6 United Township 2-4 6-8 Quincy 2-4 6-9 Rock Island 1-5 9-9
Monday's scores: Moline 8, Rock Island 2 Galesburg 14, Ridgewood 6
Wednesday's scores: Rock Island 1, United Township 0
Thursday's scores: Moline 9, United Township 1 Alleman 9, Princeton 3 Peoria Notre Dame 9, Rock Island 8
Today's doubleheaders: Galesburg at Alleman, 10 a.m. & noon. United Township at Moline, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m. Rock Island at Quincy, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.
Next Saturday's doubleheaders: Moline at Rock Island, 10 a.m. & noon. Alleman at Quincy, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m. United Township at Galesburg, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.
BIG 6 SOFTBALL
Conf. Over. W-L W-L Moline 6-0 12-2 United Township 6-0 8-2 Alleman 2-4 12-6 Rock Island 4-4 7-9 Galesburg 1-5 6-11 Quincy 1-7 3-11
Monday's scores: Rock Island 11, Geneseo 9 Alleman 10, Rockridge 1
Wednesday's scores: Moline 11, Sherrard 2 Alleman 12, Rock Island 5
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.