DeKALB – It was a dark stretch for the DeKalb baseball team.
For more than a month, the Barbs suffered loss after loss – 16 in a row – but DeKalb baseball coach Dedric Wright had enough hope that they had become more competitive in their defeats. After breaking the dreadful streak with a 4-1 win May 9 at Morris, DeKalb closed out the regular season with five more losses in a row.
Then, as the regular season turned into the postseason, the Barbs started winning games.
The No. 7-seeded Barbs won three regional games in a row and will have their toughest test of the season when they square off against No. 1 seed Crystal Lake South at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal of the Class 4A McHenry Sectional at Petersen Park.
“We just kept at it and turned those close games into wins when it counted,” said Wright, who’s in his first year with DeKalb. “When the playoff schedule came out, I told them, ‘I guarantee you guys that we win regionals. Play like we’ve been playing, we’re going to win regionals.’ They may have thought I was crazy when I said it, but I guaranteed it, and it happened because I had confidence in them and you can’t always measure progression in wins and losses.”
DeKalb (10-25) was scheduled to play Crystal Lake South (31-5) in the regular season finale, but the contest was canceled because of rain.
While the Barbs, who started the year 6-4, are only allowing 2.3 runs a game during the postseason, it’s been a night-and-day difference from the heart of their 16-game losing streak. During that stretch, they gave up 8.6 runs a game and allowed 10 or more runs six times – including 17 runs in a contest three times. However, the last five losses came by a combined nine runs – including a pair of one-run losses to Sycamore and a one-run defeat to Morris.
The Barbs finished the regular season 7-25 overall and 1-11 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East. However, they became the last baseball team standing in the area after Sycamore lost, 6-0, to Marmion Academy and Kaneland fell to Burlington Central, 4-3, in their Class 2A regional finals Saturday. However, only one of the three wins for the Barbs have come against a team that had at least 10 wins on the season.
“During the season, we felt we were getting better and better, and it was just little things holding us back,” said senior Derek Kyler, who leads the team with a .408 batting average and has 17 RBIs and 25 runs scores. “The darkest part of (the losing streak) was, I guarantee you there were days where a lot of kids didn’t want to be there. It’s horrible. You lose 16 games in a row – I’ve never lost that many games in a row, so I don’t take losing very well.”
The Barbs’ started their postseason run with a 10-4 victory over No. 10 seed Rockford Jefferson (1-21-1) in the regional play-in game, in which Eric Nelson went 3 for 3 with three RBIs and DeKalb scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
They needed extra innings for a 2-1 win over No. 2 seed Rockford East (15-13-1) in the regional semifinal, with starting pitcher Bryce Wheeler going 62/3 innings – striking out 12 – before the Barbs scored a run in the top of the ninth inning when Matt Searls was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
In the regional final Saturday, Kyler threw a complete game – allowing one earned run on six hits and struck out six in a 3-2 win over No. 6 seed Hampshire (9-27-1) for the Barbs’ second consecutive one-run victory.
During the regular season, the Barbs were 1-4 in one-run games.
“In the Jefferson game, we were only up 3-1 and I spit out a stat to the team that said, ‘Do you know how many two-out RBIs we had this year? Going into that game, we had almost a dozen. That’s your one-run game right there,” Wright said. “We haven’t had too many two-out hits this year. We’ve had a lot of guys, trust me, we’ve had a lot of guys on second and third with two outs.”
Kyler is 2-0 with 0.75 ERA during the postseason, including throwing 21/3 scoreless innings in the extra-inning victory over Rockford East. Wright will hand the ball to Wheeler to start game against Crystal Lake South. On the season, Wheeler is 2-4 with a 2.77 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 552/3 innings pitched. So far this postseason, he’s fanned 15 batters in 72/3 innings.
“If you want to be considered elite, you have to face off against the elite,” Wheeler said.