ROCHELLE – Rochelle only had three wins coming into Wednesday’s Class 3A Rochelle Regional semifinal against Sycamore, but Spartans baseball coach Jason Cavanaugh said he was “scared to death” by the Hubs, and he had a good reason.
Although Sycamore had 19 more wins than the Hubs, Rochelle won the last time the two teams played, during a time when pitching carried the Spartans but they weren’t hitting.
“It didn’t matter how many wins they had,” Cavanaugh said. “They beat us once.”
His concern was wiped away quickly in Wednesday’s 13-1 win that was over after the top of the fifth inning.
After Rochelle (3-24) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, the Spartans (23-11) responded by scoring five runs, with Cooper Vinz and Ian Kidd each driving in two.
Vinz drove in two more runs in the second, Alec Kozak hit a two-run home-run and the Spartans led 13-1 after the inning.
“We got a couple of timely hits when we needed it,” Cavanaugh said. “We ended up scoring five [in the first] and then we came back right with eight, and I think that was even more important in that situation, just to add on. That’s something we haven’t been very good at this year, is putting together [a big] inning.”
Sycamore senior Scott Nelson pitched four innings and allowed only one run with three strikouts and no walks.
“It’s a huge relief to know that I have some run support behind me,” Nelson said. “I think this gives us a lot of momentum heading into the regional (final).”
The Spartans have struggled to hit all season after coming into the year with great offensive expectations, but Wednesday’s win should help their mental state at the plate.
While the power hitters certainly showed up against Rochelle, smart offensive baseball might end up carrying Sycamore deep into the playoffs.
“I think this gives us a lot of confidence,” Vinz said. “We’ve been talking about doing what’s right for the team and not doing it for yourself. … Sometimes to put your team in position to score a run or to win, you have to sacrifice and maybe you’re 0-2 and you have to sacrifice an at-bat. Maybe you don’t get a hit that game, but you still do something to win.”
Referencing his team’s loss to Rochelle in the regular season, Cavanaugh said his team needs to “learn to put somebody away.”
On Wednesday, the Spartans looked well-versed in that subject.
“That’s kind of the offense we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Cavanaugh said.