SYCAMORE – When Cole Nelson warmed up in the bullpen beyond the left-field fence at Sycamore Park, he knew he was going to have his good stuff for Monday's Northern Illinois Big 12 East series opener against Kaneland.
Turned out Nelson's feel was right. His fastball had good location and was going right by the Knights batters, who weren't able to do much when Nelson tossed a breaking ball up to the plate.
Nelson gave up only three hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out nine in the Spartans' 1-0 win.
"Everything was working," said Nelson, who improved to 4-1. "I didn't even throw my changeup once. From warming up in the bullpen I knew everything was working, everything was going."
The Knights (12-8, 7-3 NI Big 12 East) had runners on first and third in the second inning courtesy of singles by Sean Dunphy and Anthony Holubecki, but Nelson struck out Jacob Bachio and got Connor Fedderly to ground out to first to end the threat. Kaneland had only two more baserunners the rest of the game – Austin Wheatley reached on an error in the third and Bachio singled in center in the fifth on a ball Spartans center fielder Brett Weaver nearly caught with a diving effort.
Nelson got better and better as the game went on, retiring the final eight Kaneland batters.
"That's just how I am. That's how it goes," Nelson said. "All my pitches gain velocity as the game goes on, my 100th pitch will be harder than my first, and that's just how it's been for a couple years. I don't know why. I don't ask."
Sycamore (18-3, 8-2 NI Big 12 East) got its only run in the first inning, when leadoff hitter Mark Skelley started the frame by reaching on an error. Skelley scored on a Cooper Vinz RBI groundout to short.
Spartans coach Jason Cavanaugh moved Skelley to the leadoff spot last week, and it's been paying dividends. Skelley had one of Sycamore's four hits against Kaneland starter Curtis Thorson, and reached base three times.
"He's been awesome. He's going to make his effort to go to right field," Cavanaugh said. "That's what he's going to try to do. I wish I could get more guys to buy into what he tries to do. He's patient at the plate, he tries to go to right field every time, and he gets lucky a lot. You always get lucky a lot when you go to right field."