Whispers of an undefeated season were considered delusions of grandeur at Indian Creek for Timberwolves coach Joe Piekarz.
The T'wolves (8-1) lost their first game Friday, a 13-8 decision against Serena. The Huskers overcame a 5-2 deficit as Indian Creek made mistakes it had avoided in an undefeated start.
"I never expected us to go undefeated," Piekarz said. "The key concept we always preach is to not get too high after a win, and not get too low after a loss. We learned it's a fine line between winning and losing. We had taken advantage of the mistakes other teams had made all season and we didn't do that Friday. We aren't good enough to give away anything."
Freshman Trevor Guerra continues to post numbers that belie his lack of varsity experience. As leadoff man, Guerra goes deep in the count, which taxes opposing pitchers and exposes their repertoire of pitches to other Indian Creek hitters. He's also turned into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for the T'wolves.
"Trevor just throws strikes," said Piekarz about the freshman who has a 4-0 record and threw 89 pitches in a 4-3 win against Serena where he didn't give up an earned run. "He challenges hitters to put the ball in play and realizes opponents need three or four hits to score a run and doesn't back down at all."
Hawks' three plays: Hiawatha had a top-heavy batting order.
But then Adam Spear hit his way into the No. 2 spot in the Hawks' order, which solidified the lineup. The Hawks average 10 runs a game as Spear has hit .600, with 10 runs and four RBIs in just six games.
He's patient enough at the plate to allow Nick Doolittle to utilize his permanent green light on the bases, and because Spear is consistently on base it sets the table for No. 3 hitter Will Corn. Doolittle (.552 BA/.658 OBP/23 runs scored) and Corn (.567/.632/24 RBI/16 runs) have accounted for 70 of the Hawks 100 runs scored.
Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly said he has the most potent lineup, deepest pitching staff and best fielding team in eight years as Hawks skipper.
"Even with some inconsistencies and our adjustment to playing with high expectations," Donnelly said. "We are just one play away in each of our three losses from being undefeated."
Knights formula: In a 2-0 home win against Yorkville on Monday, Kaneland followed a familiar script that coach Brian Aversa favors.
Sophomore starting pitcher Anthony Holubecki pitched six shutout innings. The Notre Dame commit struck out nine before closer Nick Stahl came in to pick up his fourth save.
"We want to keep getting better every day," Aversa said. "We still haven't played a clean game. We had some mistakes on the bases and let a ball fall between fielders on Monday. We have to keep improving."
Starting catcher Joe Laudont left Monday's game with a thumb injury and was replaced by Sean Dunphy, who made the most of his opportunity to come off the bench as he went 2 for 2.
Barbs maximize chances: DeKalb and Morris each had four hits Monday. But, Morris had 10 base runners. The Redskins had their chances, but it was the Barbs that were opportunistic on defense and efficient on the mound to earn a 1-0 win, their first in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East this year.
DeKalb picked off one Redskin trying to steal and threw out a runner at home. Knuckleballer Austin Hop (1-0) earned a spot in the Barbs' rotation as he made Dylan Farrell's RBI single that plated Noah Baert in the bottom of the third the game-winner.
"No high school hitter's ever see a knuckleball," DeKalb coach Jake Howells said. "It looks funny to them. The key is Austin can throw the knuckleball for a strike. Hitters can't just forget about it when they see it coming."
Quiet Sycamore leader: In a lineup with talent from leadoff to turn around, the Spartans' leading hitter has had a quiet 2014 campaign.
Senior third baseman Mark Skelley has used the middle away approach coach Jason Cavanaugh has favored and has thus far hit a team-best .455 heading into Tuesday's NI Big 12 East series opener against Rochelle.
"There is just more room in right field for a ball to find a hole," Cavanaugh said. "Hitters can be a little early and line a shot up the middle, maybe they roll over it a little and go through the six hole and maybe they end up early but stay on the pitch and line a hit into left field. But, it all starts with going to right field. When hitters get in trouble, they try to pull everything, then mishits end up as cue-shot grounders to first, as pop-ups in foul play. Skelly is very coachable and has really got comfortable in the No. 6 hole."
His approach is what Cavanaugh wants the entire Spartans' lineup to return to after Sycamore dropped two of three games to Morris last week.
"We scored 10 runs in three games," Cavanaugh said. "Seven came against their best pitcher. We need to go back to the approach we preached about all summer and used to start the season. We need to consistently commit to going to the opposite field. When we do that we are an explosive offense."
VIEWS: Hiawatha freshman’s stats jump off the sheet
Reality has hit for coaches as the prep baseball season nears its midpoint in terms of games.
Players have seen plenty of live pitching, pitchers arms have been stretched out and even the weather has somewhat ceased its attempt to prolong winter. Now is the time for players to maximize their opportunity. Coaches have a large enough sample size. They can look at the statistics and use the eye test to determine what lineup gives their team the best chance to post a win.
It's when coaches have made their decision, when they know if a player has maximized his potential, has reached his ceiling. That opportunity comes to play for players that have been waiting their turn in practice and games. Players that want a permanent spot in the lineup force a coach to keep them in the lineup with eye-popping stats that can't be replaced or stellar fielding that saves runs.
Hiawatha freshman Adam Spear has done just that.
The stats jump off the sheet. Six games, 12 for 20 for a .600 batting average. He's scored 10 runs and has four RBIs. All while playing three positions. It's the kind of impact and versatility that Hawks' coach Sean Donnelly has to keep in the lineup.
"We want to at least repeat the run we had last year," Donnelly said about the postseason performance that yielded Hiawatha's first baseball regional title. "We have more hitting and pitching depth than I've had in eight years. It would be great to make a run at sectionals."
With Spear rising to the occasion such a run seems possible.
• James Nokes covers prep sports for the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Adam Spear, freshman, Hiawatha
A catalyst, a patient hitter who makes contact and a base runner with speed are a few of the criteria Spear meets as an ideal No. 2 hitter. The freshman worked his way up from the bottom of the order and all he has done is hit. A team-best .600 batting average and 10 runs in six games have made him a mainstay in the Hawks' lineup.
1. Indian Creek (8-1, 8-1 Little Ten)
2. Kaneland (11-4, 7-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East)
3. Sycamore (13-3, 5-2 NI Big 12 East)
4. Hiawatha (7-3, 6-3 Little Ten)
5. Genoa-Kingston (6-6, 2-0 Big Northern West)
6. DeKalb (6-7, 1-6 NI Big 12 East)
7. Hinckley-Big Rock (NA)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Kaneland vs. Yorkville, Today at Yorkville, Thursday at Kaneland, 4:30 p.m
Game 1 belonged to the Knights as they rode stellar pitching and defense to a 2-0 home win. The Foxes have a deep pitching staff that will challenge the Northern Illinois Big 12 East leaders.