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PREP BASEBALL INSIDER: Sycamore able to close

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 8:21 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Ryan Gaines for Shaw Media)
Sycamore’s Brett Weaver gets a jump down the third base line while DeKalb third baseman Jake Kuykendall gets into defensive position late in Sycamore’s home win Friday at Sycamore Park in Sycamore. With the win, the Spartans swept the series.

Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh hoped the Spartans wouldn’t be content. With a Northern Illinois Big 12 East season-opening series win already secured against DeKalb, Sycamore showed the “killer insitinct” Cavanaugh wanted.

Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Sycamore offense opened up for seven runs for the decisive 9-1 win Friday.

“We played well all three games,” said Cavanaugh, who recalled just three instances in his 17 seasons as Spartans’ skipper which featured a series sweep between the two teams. “We’d already won the series on [Thursday]. We told the team a win Friday wouldn’t determine our season. But it would show if we are going to be a team that brings it every game. On Friday we went out and competed hard. It was our first real test all season and we played well.”

T’wolves arrive: The wait is over at Indian Creek.

Timberwolves coach Joe Piekarz has seen the maturation of a lineup he expected to deliver positive results.  

“We had some growing pains the last few years,” Piekarz said. “We had the talent, but it was young; freshmen and sophomores. So, we were up and down a little bit when it came to being consistent. This year it’s nice to see the juniors really step up. It takes a lot of pressure off the young guys that are playing.”    

Veteran utility man Tim Sommerfeld leads Indian Creek in batting average and is a threat to steal bases.

“Tim really creates havoc on the bases,” Piekarz said. “His athleticism allows him to be versitile, too. He’s played several positions for us and that really takes pressure off the younger guys as well.”

Hiawatha waiting game: Hawks’ coach Sean Donnelly needed players to make an attitude adjustment.

In a 5-4 loss Monday at Indian Creek, Donnelly tired of the mental errors. Twice the Hawks had runners picked off first base. Batters also struck out too many times. Included was a game-ending strikeout with the bases loaded.

“We are still learning how to play with and manage high expectations,” Donnelly said. “We need our upperclassmen to step up. These are the guys that know you can’t just put on a jersey and go out there and win. Wins have to be earned. They have to lead the way with that consistent effort.”

Completion key at DeKalb: The Barbs have had chances to beat NI Big 12 East leaders Sycamore and Kaneland. Yet, haven’t been able to put a total game together.

In the first two losses against the Spartans, the Barbs faced early deficits when their starting pitchers struggled.

In a 9-1 Game 3 loss, starting pitcher Patrick Hayes held the potent Spartans lineup to one run over five innings.

But, Sycamore snapped the 1-2 tie with a six-run sixth. Kaneland turned a 4-1, seventh-inning lead into a 7-2 win Monday.

Again, DeKalb had its chances to score.

“We’ve got to do more on offense,” DeKalb coach Jake Howells said. “We’ve got to take more advantage of the opportunities we get. I have seen good signs though. When we stick to the plan and throw strikes, play good defense and employ a pressure offense we’ve had success.”      

Knights open: Tied atop the NI Big 12 East standings, Kaneland coach Brian Aversa is pleased.

But, there is room for improvement.

“I’m happy, not satisfied,” Aversa said. “We need to clean up a lot to go from good to great. I’d like our starting pitchers to lower their pitch counts. Our bullpen has been dynamite. They are attacking and are aggressive in the strike zone.”

Relievers Nick Stahl and Nick Henne are a duo that Aversa said “have consistently pounded the strike zone.”

Cogs top 2013: Genoa-Kingston has already surpassed its win total from last year.

G-K (6-7) was 5-20 last season.

The Cogs chances this spring have come from an offense that has backed up a stout pitching staff.

Four players in the G-K lineup are hitting better than .300, led by Jake Langford, who tops the Cogs’ offensive categories with a .540 batting average, 10 extra-base hits and only two strikeouts in 47 at-bats.

“We are more aggressive on offense,” G-K coach Anson Ellis said. “In 2013 we averaged eight strikeouts a game. We’ve cut that to six. We would take three strikeouts per game last spring. We are under one this year.”   

Unger returns: Hinckley-Big Rock coach Brad Unger played a season at Waubonsee Community College.

In 2015 he will return to lead the Chiefs’ program, according to a Waubonsee release. Unger took over the Royals’ program in 2012.

VIEWS: Opportunity leads NI Big 12 East

Sycamore swept DeKalb. Yet it only scored in six innings over the three-game set.

Kaneland won 7-2 against DeKalb on Monday. The Knights only scored in two innings. While coaches rave about teams with opportunistic offenses, the Northern Illinois Big 12 East leaders have maximized their scoring chances.

Which is why Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh and Kaneland coach Brian Aversa both continue to consider their teams a work in progress.

“When we put it all together we can be really hard to beat,” Cavanaugh said.

Added Aversa when asked about the Knights’ start: “We’ve got to stay hungry, we can’t be content.”

Because both teams have experienced rosters and ample pitching, they are able to be the ultimate opportunists. They been in close games and are familiar with the experiences they’ll face. When their series comes around in a few weeks, mirror image teams could determine the outcome of the NI Big 12 East.

James Nokes covers prep sports for the  Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via email at sports@daily-chronicle.com

Spotlight On...

Alex Swedberg, senior, Sycamore

Walks are hard to come by for Sycamore No. 9 hitter Alex Swedberg. The senior left fielder had six hits in the DeKalb series and was a threat on the basepaths.  

“He’s just a hacker,” Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said. “He’s impossible to walk but always has productive at-bats. He squares up the ball well and flys around the bases. He’s a great fielder, too. It’s important when he gets on base to get the guys at the top of the order another at-bat.”  

POWER RANKINGS

1. Sycamore (9-1, 3-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East)
2. Indian Creek (6-0, 6-0 Little Ten)
3. Kaneland (8-3, 4-0 NI Big 12 East)
4. Hiawatha (4-2, 3-2 Little Ten)
5. DeKalb (5-5, 0-4 NI Big 12 East)
6. Genoa-Kingston (6-7, 2-1 Big Northern East)
7. Hinckley-Big Rock (3-4)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Sycamore vs. Morris, Thursday at Sycamore, Friday at Morris, 4:30 p.m.

The longest bus ride awaits Sycamore. With an experienced roster, the Spartans have an established pregame routine with which they are familiar.

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