Perhaps St. Charles North baseball coach Todd Genke should have figured this would be a challenging season when the team's annual trip to downstate Marion was shortened -- due to a late-March snowstorm.
Whatever the case, it definitely has not been business as usual for the North Stars this season.
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St. Charles North carried a 13-15 overall record, including a 9-12 mark in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play, into the final week of the regular season.
Hovering at the .500 level might be OK for some schools but St. Charles North isn't one of them.
How many schools can say they won a conference title in their first season with seniors on the team?
St. Charles North accomplished the feat in 2003, compiling a 19-6 Upstate Eight Conference record.
Since Genke took over as head coach in 2005, the North Stars have been one of the state's most consistent high school baseball teams.
St. Charles North has posted 8 consecutive 20-win seasons, highlighted by the 2010 squad that finished 33-5 and amassed a school-record .370 team batting average while capturing the Upstate Eight Conference championship (22-3 mark).
In 2005, the North Stars went 25-10 and won the conference title with a 19-6 record in Genke's first season as head coach thanks in part to the play of pitcher Rob Currie, pitcher/infielder Kenny Smalley and outfielder Kevin Schuetz.
The next season, St. Charles North finished 24-11 while stealing a team-record 136 bases.
The 2007 squad, anchored by current West Michigan Class A minor leaguer (Detroit Tigers' organization) Jeff Holm, Jake Thornton, Jeff Roberts and Jeff Siemianowski, posted a 1.78 team earned run average, sported a 30-6 record and earned the school's first regional championship before losing to Dundee-Crown in the sectional title contest.
Led by Zach Hirsch, Danny Jimenez, Brian DeLaTorriente, San Weinberg, Collin O'Carroll and KC Wright, the 2008 team earned its second straight regional title and reached the sectional semifinals before losing to Wheaton North.
The 2010 team, which finished with a school-record 394 base hits and a .531 slugging percentage, was anchored by Ryan Richardson (now at Michigan State), Matt Stevens, Kevin Borst, Mike Budka, and Ryan Hudspeth (also at Michigan State).
St. Charles North posted back-to-back 24-win campaigns in 2011 and 2012, with talented players like Jake Bergren, Andrew Elliot, John Munyon, Phil Warner, Brandon Drawant, Carl Formento, Jared Shurtleff and Jake Johansmeier (now at Eastern Illinois) filling the roster.
With only 7 seniors on this year's roster, 4 of whom are pitchers, the youthful North Stars are learning the hard way in 2013.
"It's hard," admitted Genke after his team got swept by Batavia Saturday by scores of 16-4 and 10-6. "You want to keep your kids motivated the best you can and give them positive feedback but when you see the same things over and over again it can really test you. Things that are not issues normally have been this year."
While defensive miscues have proven costly in most of the North Stars' 15 losses, pitching problems hurt their cause last weekend against Batavia with numerous wild pitches in addition to the 29 hits allowed.
"We've been throwing the ball well up until this point," said Genke. "For whatever reason (today), we couldn't put the fire out."
Saturday's double dip came less than 24 hours after one of the North Stars' best performances of the season -- a 3-0 victory over the host Bulldogs.
"I was really expecting us to come in and play well," said Genke on Saturday. "We had our best pitcher (Ankur Shah) on the mound in Game 1 so I thought we'd get that one and maybe the second game, too. But too many little things caught up with us."
After 28 games, Genke admittedly is still searching for the best possible position players.
"We're still trying to figure it out," he said. "We're still trying to figure out what our best lineup is going to be come regional time."
The team's inconsistencies have made it hard on Genke and assistant coaches Sean Doherty and Terry Ayers.
"Sometimes we think it's just going to happen and we've got to make sure they know that they have to do it," said Genke. "We talk about every pitch and every at-bat. Those things are cliché-ish but they're important because baseball doesn't have a clock."
Baseball is all about taking the game one pitch at a time.
Win every inning.
"Ultimately, we've got to figure it out," said Genke. "That's the frustrating part. We work on these things a lot. We expect them when they get into the game to know the situation and be able to execute. We expect them to compete at a high level because we practice at a high level."
Earlier this season, the North Stars dropped a 10-0, 5-inning decision to Streamwood. Two days later, St. Charles North swept a doubleheader from the Sabres.
There's that consistency thing again.
"We're a confident team but we need more of it," said Genke.
While another 20-win season will be tough to attain, the North Stars are from devoid of talent.
Sophomore left-hander Cory Wright, who tossed a 3-hit shutout against UEC River Division co-leader Batavia last week, has also shown plenty of promise at the plate and at first base.
"Cory showed that he can beat them (Batavia) so if we play them again we know we've got a guy who can beat them," Genke said of the second-seeded Bulldogs.
Along with Wright, juniors Frankie Farry, Nick Drawant, Jack Dennis, Joe Kuczek, Hunter Buerster, Riley Coomes, and sophomores Carson Schmitt and Kyle Khoury give the North Stars plenty of hope for the future.
"Our playoffs start now," said Genke, whose 10th-seeded team will open the Class 4A regional tournament against No. 7 Bartlett on May 23.
"It has been a trying season," said Genke. "But we've had some good teams that have gotten beat in the regionals so my mantra is, 'hey, look maybe our regular season hasn't gone the way we want it but we've still got a chance to get hot at the right time and win a regional -- and who knows from there.'"
You just never know.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org