Baseball Insider

Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 5:30 a.m.CDT

Spotlight on ...

Fred Beltrame

Sycamore, senior, second base

All was not lost for the Spartans in getting swept by Kaneland last week. Sycamore found much needed production from the bottom if its order when Beltrame – who has been solid on defense all season – chipped in with seven hits in the series.

“He really battled at the plate and fouled off a lot of pitches,” said Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh about Beltrame. “He had a lot of hits to right where he fought off pitches and shot it through the right side, he added an important bunt single and a double over the right fielder’s head, too.”

What to watch for ...

Kaneland vs. Morris today and Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
Knights coach Brian Aversa knows the perils of playing on the bandbox field at Morris. Aversa played at Geneva when the Vikings and Redskins shared a conference and has seen many windblown popups creep over the short fences.

Sycamore vs. Yorkville today, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
The Spartans are relegated to playing spoilers with their Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference title hopes erased.

Power rankings

1. Kaneland (17-8, 10-2 Northern Illinois Big 12)

Knights on same path as 2011 Class 3A state title winning team

2. Hinckley-Big Rock (19-9, 13-1 Little Ten)

Cory Bradburn and Mitch Ruh are OBP machines

3. Sycamore (15-9, 6-6 NI Big 12)

Kaneland sweeps Sycamore out of NI Big 12 contention, wants Spartans to play spoiler against Yorkville

4. Indian Creek (13-12, 11-5 Little Ten)

No one wants to play Timberwolves with an eight-game win streak in what amounts to a Little Ten regional

5. DeKalb (10-11-1 4-7 NI Big 12)

All facets of the game never arrive at same time for Barbs

6. Hiawatha (7-14, 6-7 Little Ten)

Hawks offense will challenge regional foes, defense and timely hitting are exploitable

7. Genoa-Kingston (4-18, 2-6 Big Northern)

G-K a long way from where it wants to be

Notes

Reserves leading Knights’ charge

For three weeks, Kaneland has been without its No. 1 pitcher. And in the time that Drew Peters has been out with an injury, the Knights have pulled away in the Northern Illinois Big 12 with series wins against their two closest rivals.

Pressed into action, junior pitcher Matt Limbrunner clinched a series win against DeKalb two weeks ago and tossed six scoreless innings in a 10-0, mercy-rule win Friday over Sycamore.

“Sycamore pounded the ball Thursday and Matt came in and threw six quality innings Friday,” Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. “It’s good that he’s got so many quality innings as a junior and excelled in those appearances. I’ve been impressed with our deep pitching staff and solid defense.”

The Knights aren’t sure if Peters will return this week. He warmed up in the bullpen Thursday but was unable to enter the game. Peters last pitched one inning in the series opener with DeKalb before being injured in a second-inning collision.

H-BR stalks a title

In its quest to claim a second straight Little Ten title, Hinckley-Big Rock might have developed an important mental edge over its opponents.

“We felt like we were the team to beat in conference in 2011,” Royals’ senior Cory Bradburn said. “We came into this year with the same mindset. We want teams to be afraid to play us because we’ve developed a winning reputation. But, we also know and expect we are going to get the other team’s best game.”

Sycamore needs protection

If the wind is blowing out, opposing pitchers fret facing the Sycamore lineup. The Spartans aren’t shy about lifting the ball and don’t get cheated on most of their swings.

But it hasn’t been a formula for repeated success.

“When the wind blows out, we can hit,” Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said. “When it blows in, we can’t. We either hit fly balls or strike out. When we hit a fly ball with the wind blowing in, it just becomes a harmless out. We don’t put enough pressure on the defense to make them make mistakes, and our strike out total is way too high.”

Fred Beltrame’s seven-hit performance in the Kaneland series could be a catalyst for the Spartans, as the senior second baseman had the kind of tough at-bats that have eluded Sycamore.

Views

Timberwolves enjoy recent success

Joe Piekarz has what it takes.

Communication, experience and a plan are the traits a good amateur sports coach must possess.

You’ve got to speak the language of young athletes in an informative way that still commands respect from being in charge. Having some chops as a former player is a huge perk. Players like to see their coach on the field going through actual demonstrations and from time-to-time, showing off some lingering skills.

Perhaps most important though, is a plan.

The direction a program is going, on all levels, is vital. Each practice minute must be accounted for, it helps keep players responsible for their actions and on task. Every offseason workout, summer league game and team gathering needs a goal that is either attainable or can be worked toward by focused players.

As a basketball coach, Piekarz turned Indian Creek into a consistent team in the Little Ten. But it’s his work in the dugout as the Timberwolves skipper that has been stellar. With a team that features nine freshman – five that start – Indian Creek is on a eight-game winning streak.

The Timberwolves are nicely positioned to assume the yearly position of being the team that tries to hunt down Somonauk in the future after a third-place finish in the Little Ten this season.

“Our freshman have so much experience this season that we now consider them varsity baseball players,” Piekarz said. “I’m optimistic for the group, because the juniors and seniors have done such a good job of working with them to reduce stressful situations.

“Going forward we know just because we’ve had some success this year, that wins won’t be automatic.

As sophomores, they have to want to get better in the summer, fall and winter.”

Now that’s a plan worth executing.

• James Nokes is a contributor to the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at sports@daily-chronicle.com

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