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Spartans force action to spark offense

Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com Sycamore batter Davey Scholz connects for a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning in DeKalb, Ill., Monday, April 22, 2013. Sycamore defeated DeKalb, 4-2.

Statistical analysis has led to changes for the Sycamore baseball team.

The math teacher in Spartans’ coach Jason Cavanaugh forced the baseball coach to a strategic shift. With a .255 team batting average, Cavanaugh has been forced to initiate the Spartans’ offense with sacrifice bunts, bunting for a hit and hit-and-runs. 

It’s a path he hasn’t taken often in his 17 years as Sycamore coach.

But it has Sycamore’s offense starting to produce as consistently as the starting pitching and defense it rode all season to the Class 3A Rochelle Regional, which starts at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday for the No. 1 seeded Spartans against the winner of today’s play-in game between No. 5 Dixon and No. 4 Rochelle.

“It’s so tricky in the postseason,” Cavanaugh said. “One bad inning and your season is over. Out hitting numbers were the lowest we’ve had in my 17 years. I thought we’d hit 30 homers as a team and pound out doubles.

“It’s been strange that we haven’t done that. 

“So, I’ve started to take out chances. There’s a 60 percent chance we’ll get a steal and only a 25 percent chance we’ll get a hit. Instead of waiting around for two hits in a row to happen, we’ve pressed the action. We’ve hit-and-run every chance we’ve gotten.”

After the Spartans (22-10) limped to a second-place finish in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East, after controlling the conference for most of the season, Sycamore went 3-1 last week and hosts Waubonsie Valley in a final tune-up at 4:30 p.m. game today. 

Nathan Haacker (.360) leads the Spartans offense and Davey Schulz (.315) had three doubles among his six hits in a double-header split with Hampshire on Saturday. Alec Kozak (.315) is the Spartans other steady threat in an offense that will look to support Wednesday’s starting pitcher, Scott Nelson (6-1, 1 save, 1.25 ERA).

“Our pitchers have done everything we’ve asked all season,” Cavanaugh said. “They throw the ball over the plate and don’t walk guys. We’ve shown the capability to play great defense. But we are one-and-done now that it’s the playoffs. Every time it looks like our offense takes a step forward, it takes a step back. I’m cautiously optimistic right now that it’s on the right track.”

Regional roundups: Damage control will be key as the Class 4A DeKalb Regional gets started for the No. 3 seeded Barbs at 4 p.m. Thursday against No. 2 seed Dundee-Crown. 

DeKalb (12-17) has to keep the opportunistic Dundee-Crown offense in check. 

“When they have the opportunity they will put the pedal to the metal,” DeKalb coach Jake Howells said. “They are a go-go-go team. We can’t play into their hands to be effective. They want to bunt, hit-and-run, go first-to-third, steal and really move the ball around. They are fast and athletic. We can’t give up free bases, walks or make errors.”

Shaun Johnson (3-4, 4.00 ERA) gets the start for DeKalb, which will need its defense to be active.

“We’ve got to do a great job of fielding our positions,” Howells said. “The key will be to take away what they want to do and handle the pressure. They’re going to get hits and get on base. When they do we’ve got to minimize the damage.”

No. 4-seed Genoa-Kingston plays in the quarterfinals against No. 5 seeded Wheaton Academy at 4:30 p.m. today in the Class 3A Burlington Central Regional 

In the Class 3A Kaneland Regional, the No. 2 seeded Knights play No. 3 Sandwich at 4 p.m. Thursday. 

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