Softball Insider: Barbs using Kowalski, Newport to their advantage
SPOTLIGHT ON ...
Sycamore, senior, outfielder
Jones was 5 for 5 with a grand slam, double and two runs scored in the second game of a doubleheader against West Chicago on April 12.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
DeKalb at Kaneland, 4:30 p.m. Thursday
A key matchup early on in Northern Illinois Big 12 East play.
Richmond-Burton at Genoa-Kingston, 4:30 p.m. Monday
The Cogs look to get on the right track in BNC East play agaisnt a solid Richmond-Burton team.
1. DeKalb (8-4, 0-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East)
Barbs gave up two uneared runs as they dropped their conference opener, 2-1 at Morris on Thursday.
2. Genoa-Kingston (8-3, 2-2 Big Northern East)
Cogs getting contributions from both veterans and young players.
3. Sycamore (4-4, 1-0 NI Big 12 East)
Spartans' offense was rolling in conference-opening win over Rochelle.
4. Kaneland (NA)
5. Hiawatha (4-4, 2-2 Little Ten)
Hawks swept a doubleheader with Paw paw earlier this week.
6. Indian Creek (2-3, 1-2 LTC)
T'wolves will host Hiawatha on Monday.
7. Hinckley-Big Rock (NA)
Royals are in their first full year of varsity competition.
DeKalb coach Jeff Davis is able to rely on two aces, senior Katie Kowalski and sophomore Morgan Newport.
He has a luxury most coaches don't have, as Davis can pull an ace out of his sleeve whenever possible.
Coming into the season, Davis wanted to see more complete games from the two hurlers, but the team had just one entering Thursday, courtesy of Kowalski.
Instead, Davis has used both in relief, and used them to the Barbs' advantage, as they've started out 8-4 while playing a tough nonconference schedule. Davis said Kowalski's velocity has improved this season. Should she start the game, the offspeed specialist Newport can be a nice change of pace.
"Although they both throw quite a few pitches, it seems to throw some teams off," Davis said. "... Once they see Katie two times through the lineup, we make that change where all the sudden they've got to re-adjust to a new pitcher."
Davis said that with conference play getting underway and some makeup games coming up, he's going to need some more complete games.
Cogs getting young contributions: Genoa-Kingston has the benefit of star senior catcher Paige Keegan, last year's Daily Chronicle Player of the Year, as well as top pitcher Baylie Ullmark. Both have been key to the Cogs' 8-3 start.
At the same time, G-K's younger players have been big contributors as well. The Cogs start one freshman – shortstop Lexie Howie, and three sophomores – third baseman Kendall Strack, second baseman Dani Mathey and center fielder Kelly Hensley.
"Our young kids are blending well with our veteran kids," G-K coach Mike Lauer said. "That makes up for a good team."
VIEWS: Barbs parlaying nonconference schedule into future success
DeKalb has the chance to do some special things this season.
Barbs coach Jeff Davis realizes this, and he started planning for it last year, when he put together the 2014 schedule.
Playing in 4A, a program like DeKalb needs to schedule the best teams it can in the nonconference slate, and Davis did just that.
Two of the Barbs' four losses so far came against Downers Grove South, the No. 2 team in the Illinois Coaches Association Class 4A poll.
Davis scheduled the Mustangs at the end of last season, and though his team was swept in the doubleheader, the Barbs competed with Downers South, and know where the bar is set.
"When we played theem a few weeks ago and we lost 6-4, we had a lead of 4-3 going into the sixth inning, but I told our team they look just like we do but they're in blue shirts," Davis said. "They did everything we did as far as handling the ball and chatting and talking. They had more team speed than we did. I think we gained a little bit of respect from teams like that. They know we can play at a high level."
The Barbs have beaten Class 4A teams like Hinsdale Central and Rockton Hononegah, a traditional power from the Rockford area. DeKalb will play Cary-Grove, a traditionally strong program, in May and Davis hopes to make up a cancelled game against Marengo, the 2011 Class 3A state champ and 2012 3A runner-up.
Maybe DeKalb takes some early lumps and its record won't look as sparkling as the Barbs want it to.
In the end it's for a good cause and will pay off in May and June when the games really count.
• Steve Nitz is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @SNitz_DDC.