Coaches define `friendly' softball rivalry

Originally Posted Online: April 26, 2013, 10:03 pm
Last Updated: April 26, 2013, 11:49 pm
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By Steve Tappa,

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


Conf. Over.

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.



Conf. Over.

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

Thursday's scores:
* United Township 13, Quincy 1 (5)
* United Township 9, Quincy 2 (6, darkness)
Sherrard 7, Galesburg 5

*-Big 6 doubleheader

Friday's scores:
* Rock Island  8, Quincy 7
* Rock Island 10, Quincy 0 (5)
United Township 15, Peoria Richwoods 1 (5)
Galesburg 12, Farmington 2 (6)

*-Big 6 doubleheader

Todays's doubleheaders:
Alleman at Galesburg, 10 a.m. &  noon.
Moline at United Township, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.

Next Saturday's doubleheaders:
Moline at Rock Island, 10 a.m. & noon.
Galesburg at United Township, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.
Quincy at Alleman, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.


Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.

(More History)