In six games last week the Sycamore pitching staff gave up five earned runs.
The Spartans rode a hot pitching staff to nine consecutive wins, then ran into Northern Illinois Big 12 East cellar dwellers Rochelle. After run-ruling the Hubs for two straight games, Sycamore lost on Friday and brought Kaneland, Yorkville and Morris back into the conference title race.
“Every out for us was either a strikeout or pop out,” Spartans’ coach Jake Cavanaugh said. “It’s frustrating. To not ground out once in a game you’d think would take a conscience effort. You’ve got to really try to not roll over the top of a ball and hit it to shortstop. We don’t take batting practice to the game.
“Watch our batting practice and we can rifle the ball anywhere. But in the game we just take awful swings that result in weak pop ups. If everything comes together we are going to be a very good team because our pitching has been lights out and our defense is solid.”
Sycamore’s defense has 33 errors in 20 games and, with a few positional shifts, has kept a potent pitching staff from having to earn extra outs. Yet, it’s production from the key No. 3 and No. 5 spots in the batting order that has been missing.
Extra-base hits and RBIs are a must from each spot. If No. 8 and No. 9 hitters can also turn around the order and set the bases for the top hitter, Cavanaugh believes the Spartans can finish off their run at the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference title.
“We are as talented as anyone in conference,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s a matter of us putting everything together. Will our bats come around? That’s the question. We can’t hit it in the air and get the same result for much longer.”
T’wolves depth tested: Indian Creek sent every pitcher on the roster to the mound last week.
And coach Joe Piekarz managed to pitch a few players that hadn’t been on the mound since little league. The T’wolves went 1-4-1 last week - managing a tie with then first place Hiawatha - but the approach Indian Creek used impressed Piekarz.
“We used everyone that could pitch last week,” Piekarz said. “Everyone did a nice job. They attacked the strike zone and threw strikes.”
On Friday the T’wolves were tied 3-3 with Aurora Christian in the fifth inning before they exhausted all available pitching arms and lost 11-3.
“We had timely hitting all week,” Piekarz said. “We showed flashes of what a good team can do. Our pitchers arms came out of the week in good shape and we are going out this week to compete in all four games. We want to get into a position where we are playing our best so we can peak when regionals roll around.”
Making a turn: The moment was clear.
DeKalb coach Jake Howells felt the Barbs had a breakthrough, even in a 9-4 loss to Morris on Thursday. The Redskins would sweep the series, but down 8-0 in the fourth on Thursday, DeKalb made an adjustment that served as a catalyst to keep them in games.
“That was a game that could have got ugly,” Howells said. “We started to play together. It was the hardest we’d worked all year.”
The resolve showed on Saturday when the Barbs, despite laboring through an 0-5 week, picked up a 4-1, 8-inning win against Kaneland.
“A 1-5 record seems hard to swallow but it could have been worse,” Howells said. “Every game was a conference game. There wasn’t a makeup game where we could punt and get some guys a rest. It was a long week against good opponents. Corey Nelson really knuckled up and put us in a position to win on Saturday.”
VIEWS: The blitz is on
After playing a schedule more fit for football teams, the weather has broke and the race is on to get in as many games as possible before regionals in three weeks.
Indian Creek had six games in four days. Sycamore had six games in as many days. There wasn’t a single complaint about too many games from any coach. Baseball needs to be played outdoors in the elements. Batted balls need to take funny hops off the dirt and grass. The wind needs to howl and move the perceived path of a fly ball and force fielders to adjust.
These situations can’t be simulated indoors. Pitchers need to feel the stress of a given game situation. Hitters need to see what a pitcher has when they have to bear down. The race to regionals is on.
While some teams might run out of pitching and be forced to throw someone with less experience, it beats being stuck indoors.
James Nokes is a contributor to the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com
DeKalb, junior, pitcher
Corey Nelson pitched in relief in a game one loss to Kaneland and started game two. He pitched 8 1/3 innings and threw 93 pitches over the course of two games. Nelson didn’t pick up the win in game two, but held the Knights to one run and kept the Barbs in position for their eventual three-run seventh-inning rally and a 4-1 win.
What to watch for
Hiawatha vs. Somonauk, 4:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday
The Hawks road to an unprecedented Little Ten title got more challenging with a tie and recent loss. But the Hawks still have a shot with a two-game set against perennial-conference power Somonauk.
1. Sycamore (15-5, 6-2 Northern Illinois Big 12 East)
2. Hinckley-Big Rock (11-3, 10-1 Little Ten)
3. Hiawatha (8-3-1, 8-2-1 LTC)
4. Kaneland (7-10, 4-4 NI Big 12 East)
5. Indian Creek (6-9-1, 6-4-1 LTC)
6. DeKalb (7-12, 2-7 NI Big 12 East)
7. Genoa-Kingston (4-13, 2-4 Big Northern East)