The seven teams of the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division own a 51-12 combined record this spring. Next week they begin facing each other in a title chase that promises to be among the state's fiercest.
The FVC Valley is as deep as it is competitive. Not only have member schools gone 10-3 against the Mid-Suburban League and 7-1 against the North Suburban Conference, all seven boast winning records through Thursday: Huntley (9-0), Crystal Lake South (6-0), Jacobs (8-1), Cary-Grove (9-2), Dundee-Crown (4-2), Prairie Ridge (8-3) and McHenry (7-4).
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"It's brutal," said Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski, whose Red Raiders open FVC Valley play at defending co-champion Prairie Ridge next Friday. "Day in, day out, you're facing a tough opponent, tough competition. You're going to have to bring it each and every day. It's going to be very fun."
There is no question where the balance of power lies within the Fox Valley Conference itself. Valley Division teams have prevailed in 16 of 17 games against Fox Division opponents.
Around the horn: Bartlett fielders rarely needed their mitts Monday when right-hander Colin Nowak struck out 13 Elgin hitters in 6 innings and reliever Matt Lathan fanned the side in the seventh.
Nowak's teammates appreciate how quickly he works.
"I love it because he's always in a rhythm," third baseman Matt Vitulli said. "It's bang, bang, bang. No waiting. He gets the ball and just throws."
Other than 2 popouts and 2 groundouts, the Bartlett infield saw the bulk of its action when catcher Mike Roberson threw the ball around the horn after a strikeout.
"I get a lot of throws from Roby," Vitulli said. "It keeps me active."
Late addition: The game between St. Edward and Larkin originally slated for March 27 will be played at Elgin's Wing Park on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Close to breaking through: Elgin has dropped its first 6 contests and is 0-5 in Upstate Eight Conference games, but that record does not illustrate how competitively the Maroons have played.
Elgin has been on the short end of a 4-2 loss at St. Edward (7-0), a 3-2 defeat at South Elgin (5-1) and a 3-2 defeat at Waubonsie Valley (4-5).
"We're a scrappy team," junior pitcher and shortstop Ryan Sitter said. "We're not going to overpower anybody and we're not the most talented, but we're definitely a team that's going to hustle. We have a lot of heart that not every team has. We're not going to straight win it. We have to will ourselves to win. Two runs aren't going to cut it, but if we keep playing defense hard the offense will come."
The problem has been offense. The Maroons have generated only 9 runs in 5 games.
Slick leather: Good defense wins baseball games at the high school level, which partly explains why Huntley (9-0) and Cary-Grove (8-2) are thriving.
Huntley completed its fifth straight errorless game Tuesday in a 10-0 victory over Hampshire.
"I just tried to let my defense work for me because they're phenomenal," winning pitcher Bryce Only said afterward. "We have Matt (Sullivan) at short, Tyler (Albright) at third and the whole nine. (Center fielder) Colin (Lyman) made a diving play in the first inning that probably saved a run. I'm trying not to do too much because the defense behind me is going to make the plays."
Cary-Grove has committed just 5 errors in 10 games and played error free in 4 of its last 5.
"And we've been doing it some pretty tough conditions, too," Trojans coach Don Sutherland said.
Stepping up in class: Class 3A Burlington Central's trend of scheduling successful Class 4A programs continues this season.
The Rockets last Saturday dropped a 3-1 decision to perennial Class 4A sectional threat Cary-Grove (9-2), a game losing pitcher Alex Bell characterized as, "a loss but a good loss."
The challenges continue this Saturday against defending Class 4A sectional champion Grant and the following Saturday against St. Charles North, which won regional titles in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Other Class 4A opponents on the schedule include defending FVC Valley co-champions Crystal Lake South (6-0) and Prairie Ridge (8-3), 2010 state semifinalist Huntley (9-0), Libertyville (7-1) and Palatine (4-5).
"We've been steadily making that upgrade over the past five or six years, adding good teams whenever we can," Central coach Kyle Nelson said. "We're not worried about our record. We just want to play as competitive a schedule as we can."
Nelson said playing the best Class 4A had to offer helped prepare his team for last season's postseason run to the Class 3A Elite Eight.
"I think it gives our guys confidence if they're able to go against the best big schools in the state and hang with them," he said.