One facet of the game matters most to Sycamore baseball coach Jason Cavanaugh.
While Sycamore’s pitching has been mostly steady and the offense has had wild swings, alternating from red-hot to sub-par on a seemingly game-by-game basis, defense has been the strongest part of the Sycamore game.
But as Sycamore (24-11) plays host to Rockford East (17-8) in a Class 3A sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. today at Sycamore Park District, its offense has announced its presence with authority.
The Spartans might have found their stride in time for the playoffs, as Davey Schulz has 15 hits in his past six games, and Alec Kozak had four hits, a home run and six RBIs in the Spartans’ two regional wins.
Even Mitchell Jordan, who was stuck in a season-long funk after three solid seasons as a run-producer, had a 3-for-4 game with a pair of two-run home runs in the regional title game against Rochelle.
“I’m encouraged by the way we played our last two games,” Cavanaugh said. “We can be as good as anybody. It’s up to us to stay motivated and to concentrate. Our offense, defense and pitching has operated at a high level the last four games.
“Mitchell will be the first one to tell you he hasn’t had the season he wanted. But it would be a really good time for him to get it together. A hot streak can make up for a lot of lost time and a lead to a deep playoff run.”
The Spartans will start Scott Nelson (7-1, 1.25 ERA) against the upstart Erabs, who finished fourth in the Northern Illinois Conference-10 and won their first regional title since 1992 with a 2-1 win against Belvidere on Saturday.
Nelson has a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has pin-point accuracy that keeps his pitches frequently in the strike zone. He works quickly and with efficient pitch counts so the Sycamore defense can stay vigilant in the field.
For Cavanaugh, that is the difference between winning and losing when the stakes are raised against quality playoff opponents.
“Playing solid defense is the biggest thing in the postseason,” said the Sycamore skipper, who steered the Spartans to their sixth regional title in his 17-year career. “If I had to choose which of the three facets (pitching, offense or defense) I’d take, it would be defense. There are only a quarter of the teams left, the bad teams are gone. You can’t give away runs at this point and expect to advance.”