Prior to the start of the high school -- I can't wait until it actually starts feeling like -- spring season, two local teams were included among the annual preview stories.
Nothing fancy, nothing new.
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Overlooked by some, Batavia's baseball team began its season last month with a game that wasn't even listed on its original schedule.
The Bulldogs opened with a 4-3 nonconference triumph over Wheaton Warrenville South at Lee Pfund Field in Carol Stream on March 26.
And with the exception of last week's 7-5 loss to perennial power Neuqua Valley, they haven't stopped winning since.
While defending champion St. Charles East and pitching-heavy Geneva grabbed the share of the early season spotlight, Batavia has proven that it means business in the always-tough Upstate Eight Conference River Division this season.
Coach Matt Holm's Bulldogs opened the season with an 8-game winning streak and improved their record to 11-1 with last Saturday's 12-0, 5-inning thrashing of West Aurora.
Anchored by starting pitchers Austin Shanahan, Luke Horton, Emilio Tenuta, Colby Green, and relievers Micah Coffey and Jake Piechota, the Bulldogs have been downright dominant, having allowed a total of 12 runs in 10 of their 11 wins with 4 shutouts.
After Neuqua snapped Batavia's winning streak, Holm took a realistic approach.
"I don't think anybody expected us to go undefeated," said the coach.
"One of the things especially with young men is how do you respond to anything? How do you respond to getting the bad news that somebody is sick? How do you respond when that bill is bigger than you thought?
"It's a game that we lost against a good team. We made some mistakes pitching and they took advantage of them. How do you respond to that?"
The next day, the Bulldogs (5-1 in UEC play) responded with a 10-run fourth inning during their 12-1, 5-inning rout of Metea Valley.
Last Friday, junior southpaw Green tossed a 2-hitter during Batavia's 2-0 win over previously unbeaten UEC foe South Elgin. The following day, Aaron Hurd and Horton each drove in 3 runs during the Bulldogs' 12-0, 5-inning victory over West Aurora.
Batavia's lineup includes a dynamic leadoff hitter in junior Laren Eustace, slick-fielding shortstop Billy Zwick, Coffey, 3-year varsity veteran Robbie Bowman, and junior catcher Dean Simoncelli.
"They're one of the best teams we've seen this year," Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner said of the Bulldogs. "Up and down the lineup, they swing the bats and run. That's a tough combination to compete against."
How good are the Bulldogs?
Weather permitting, we might learn a little more after their 3-game, midweek series with St. Charles East.
For now, they appear to have what it takes to remain a factor in the UEC River race.
St. Charles East's softball team began its conference campaign in inauspicious fashion, letting a 4-0 lead after 5 innings slip away during a painful 5-4, 8-inning loss to Waubonsie Valley.
Things didn't get a whole lot better the next day during the Saints' 5-3 loss to South Elgin.
Faced with a 0-2 conference record, a lot of teams would have started to panic -- especially teams that possess more freshmen and sophomores (4) than seniors (3).
But the Saints didn't even buckle.
They came back and blanked Metea Valley 8-0 before sweeping a doubleheader against Fremd.
Last week, they enjoyed a perfect 3-0 mark.
"I just think that's a tribute to the kids I have up on varsity," said Saints coach Kelly Horan of her team overcoming a slow start. "I think it's a belief that we're good and that we're going to be OK. All the problems that we had were fixable ones."
Sophomores Olivia Cheatham (4-for-4) and Alex Latoria (tossed a 3-hitter) led the way during the Saints' 6-1 victory over Naperville North last Monday.
One day later, junior pitcher Haley Beno fired a 2-hitter with 4 strikeouts as the Saints handed Bartlett its first UEC defeat, 4-1.
Last Friday, St. Charles East (9-3, 3-2) saved its best for last.
Playing in bone-chilling conditions, the Saints' bats somehow stayed warm as Tess Hupe (4-for-5, 3 RBI), Olivia Lorenzini (3 hits, 3 RBI), and Kate Peterburs (2 RBI) were a part of a 16-hit attack during their 14-2 win over Lake Park.
Beating a team like Lake Park (11-2) is one thing -- a total demolition of the Lancers is quite another.
"I think it was a great test," said Horan. "It was cold and awful weather. But no matter what I do, I can't teach mental toughness. These young ladies have really bought into it."
The Saints are getting contributions across the board from 4-year varsity veteran leadoff hitter/shortstop Lexi Perez, Sarah Collalti, Shelby Holtz, freshmen Katie Kolb and Kelly Rinker, Lorenzini, Beno, Peterburs, Hupe, Cheatham, and Latoria.
"On any given day, somebody else is stepping up," said Horan.
In the circle, Beno and Latoria give the Saints 2 legitimate aces for Horan to choose from.
"It's pretty outstanding," said Horan. "Guta (assistant coach Jared Gutesha) calls a great game every day. One pitch sets up the next pitch but that's not effective if our pitchers don't have good stuff and don't hit their spots. Haley and Alex have really bought into that and it has translated into success on the mound."
A 6-game winning streak is nice but Horan realizes there's plenty of unfinished business.
"We're still figuring things out," said Horan, whose team hosts Neuqua Valley Tuesday. "All of this is great and it feels good but our goal is to win a conference championship and play well in the postseason. We're still very young but we're going to give everybody our best every single day."
Next week, the Saints will try to remove some of the sting that remains from their third loss last season to cross-town rival St. Charles North -- a 7-6, 8-inning regional semifinal defeat on the North Stars' home field.
A win over the North Stars might help the Saints clear a mental hurdle but Horan remains focused on the big picture.
"I don't think you can be satisfied until June," said the coach.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org