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SYCAMORE – Sycamore baseball coach Jason Cavanaugh and the rest his team were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Spartans starting pitcher Scott Nelson had shut out Kaneland through the first five innings but sat in the dugout as the Spartans’ offense came up empty.
Finally, Sycamore broke through in the bottom of the fifth, with Mitchell Jordan scoring on an error and Cooper Vinz driving in Nate Haacker on a sacrifice fly.
It was all Nelson and the Spartans would need in a 2-1 victory over the Knights.
“It’s great to have some insurance runs,” Nelson said. “When you’re out pitching, your team’s got your defense, it’s good to know that your bats are there too.”
Sycamore (17-5, 8-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) left 11 runners on base, but got enough clutch hitting to help Nelson, who improved to 5-0, on the mound.
Nelson struck eight and Kaneland (7-11, 4-6 NI Big 12 East) pitcher Matt Limbrunner’s sixth-inning homer was the only damage to Nelson’s line. Nelson did a good job of pitching up in the zone, letting the fly balls get knocked down by the strong wind.
“I’m usually more of a ground ball pitcher,” Nelson said. “But today that worked. Held up in the air a little bit longer, so easier for our outfielders to get there with the wind blowing in.”
Cavanaugh said one big reason for Nelson’s success has been his ability to pitch out of the strike zone, whether it’s throwing high fastballs or putting hitters away with low breaking pitches.
“Last year, the problem with Scott was he threw too many strikes. Everything was a strike,” Cavanaugh said. “ ... Scott’s been great since he started to pitch out of the strike zone. With a lot of your high school pitchers, you tell them to put the glove in the middle of the strike zone and let the natural movement or the wildness take it to a corner. But with Scott we’ve got to get on a corner, we’ve got to get inside, we’ve got to get outside, because he hits the glove, and he does it all the time.”
Limbrunner threw five innings for Kaneland, striking out five. He had to work around four errors, but was able to get out of jams.
“He’s going to scratch and claw and fight, and he’s going to be the last man standing, he’s going to get out of there,” Knights coach Brian Aversa said. “He’s going to do whatever he can to help the team.”