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Spartans whiff on chance to win NI Big 12 East title

SYCAMORE – A few weeks ago, Sycamore baseball coach Jason Cavanaugh predicted there would be a time when his team’s surprisingly effective pitching would go through a tough stretch, and its unexpectedly poor hitting would need to carry the load.

With a chance to clinch the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title, the Spartans needed their hitting to step up, but it didn’t in a 9-1 loss. Now, DeKalb will have to beat the Foxes on Tuesday to give the Spartans a piece of the conference championship, which they would share with Morris and Yorkville.

“It’s very disappointing,” catcher Nate Haacker said. “Ever since the beginning of the season, all of us haven’t been used to hitting like we’re used to hitting. Thank God for our pitching, they’ve basically been carrying us through the season.”

The Spartans (19-8, 10-5 NI Big 12 East) had only two hits in the game, including a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning by Brett Weaver.

The game was long out of reach by then. 

Uncharacteristic pitching and defensive errors hurt the Spartans early, when an error and a balk led to two second-inning runs. The Foxes (16-11, 10-4 NI Big 12 East) tacked on runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

While Sycamore’s pitching and defense left something to be desired, Cavanaugh blames a prolonged hitting slump on the two conference-season ending losses. 

“In this one, we just got beat up. They executed everything great. They probably dumped eight balls into right center field,” Cavanaugh said. “When you make a commitment to go to right-center field, you’re going to get a lot of breaks, and they certainly did that. … That’s what we don’t do at

The Spartans will work on hitting plenty before the playoffs start Wednesday, but Cavanaugh said he’s harped on taking a smarter approach at the plate all season. Now, the onus is on his players to change that approach.

“We need to drive the ball to the gaps, we need to hit the ball hard on the ground and push the issue,” third baseman Mitchell Jordan said. “We’re just trying to put it together at the right time. We’ve been practicing hard, but nothing’s changed.”

Forgetting about the missed opportunity to clinch a conference championship, Jordan said, will be crucial as they prepare for the Class 3A Sycamore Regional. The Spartans will host either Rochelle or Dixon in a semifinal Wednesday.

“You’ve got to just take your mind off [Friday’s loss],” Jordan said. “We’re looking forward to the postseason. If we can put it all together, we’re a really solid team.”

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