It may be unfamiliar territory but that doesn't mean Lake Park's baseball team isn't prepared to back up its status as a No. 1 sectional seed.
The Lancers earned the top spot during the regular season while competing for their first Upstate Eight Conference championship since 1996 and notching their sixth 20-win campaign in seven years. They'll find out next week if they can match that success in the playoffs.
Contact information ( * required )
"(In the playoffs) you're talking about any one game where any pitcher can beat you and any team can beat you," said Lake Park coach Dan Colucci. "We just need to keep doing the things we've been doing."
Lake Park's winning formula has been clear all season. Third-year starting pitchers Christian Taugner, Mark Pall and Eric Vatch have combined for 18 wins in 20 starts.
Taugner, committed to Brown, improved to 8-1 with Monday's 6-0 win over Waubonsie Valley. In 57 innings he has 94 strikeouts, against only 7 walks, with a 0.61 ERA.
Not only are the Lancers suited for the marathon of a conference race, with Taugner they have the ace to match up with anyone in the Class 4A St. Charles East sectional and beyond.
"That's the plan but, again, anything can happen in a one-game situation," Colucci said.
If Lake Park wins the Schaumburg regional, fellow high seeds Batavia, Wheaton North and St. Charles East could await.
The Lancers claimed the top seed in the sectional, but it won't be easy winning it.
"I think these guys realize their body of work kind of put them there," Colucci said. "They were real excited when I announced they were the No. 1 seed. We're going to take every opponent seriously and see what happens."
The view from near the top:
As two-time defending DuPage Valley Conference champion, Wheaton North faced inherent pressure to three-peat heading into the season.
Now that Naperville Central officially broke the streak by claiming the outright DVC title on Tuesday, the Falcons are free to look ahead to the playoffs.
"It's a different feeling," said Wheaton North coach Dan Schoessling. "Emotionally maybe you're a little more relaxed. Things are a little more tense when you're on the other side. I'd rather be on the other side, but it's different. Our kids have responded well."
Wheaton North enters postseason play as the third seed in the Class 4A St. Charles East sectional behind No. 1 Lake Park and Batavia. The Falcons, who host their own regional, play Wednesday against the winner of Monday's quarterfinal between Streamwood and Addison Trail.
The Falcons aim for their first regional title since winning a sectional title in 2010.
"We definitely want to get a good rhythm going heading into the postseason," Schoessling said. "We've got some nonconference games after conference ends, and we want to be playing well. We're getting there."
When the IHSA announced the Class 4A playoff pairings last week, the expectation was to see the potential for several rivalry showdowns. That's been the case in past seasons.
Not this year, at least for the most part. Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South are actually in different sectionals, the three District 204 schools are in different regionals, and the Hinsdales and Downers schools are also in different regionals.
One matchup, however, again looks awfully familiar. In the Naperville Central regional the host Redhawks, seeded second, would see No. 7 Naperville North in the title game if the seeds hold up.
If they do meet, it'll be the first postseason game between the cross-town rivals since 2010 when the Napervilles played in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Naperville Central won that sectional semifinal showdown en route to their second state title.
Reversal of fortune:
In recent seasons Waubonsie Valley has become known for its slow starts and strong finishes, but that's all changed this year.
The Warriors didn't endure the early-season struggles they have in the past. At the same time they haven't found a May hot streak that's become customary.
"We are what we are, but it's up to them to perform and execute, and they've got to make plays," said Waubonsie Valley coach Dan Fezzuoglio. "I can't put my finger on it. That's why we just keep trying to plug away."
The Warriors enjoyed their best stretch in mid-April when they won seven straight games highlighted by a doubleheader sweep of South Elgin. Waubonsie Valley won both games 1-0 on a 2-hitter by Troy Fumagalli and a no-hitter by Tyler Hasper. They combined for 23 strikeouts.
Despite back-to-back Upstate Eight Conference series losses to Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley, Waubonsie Valley's shown the potential to compete in the Class 4A Neuqua Valley sectional. The Warriors, seeded eighth, were placed in the Hinsdale Central regional and will face the ninth-seeded host Red Devils in the regional semifinals.
"In the past we were more consistent down the line here," Fezzuoglio said. "This year we've had some streaks of being low, streaks of being high. We were a little better at the beginning of the year than we've typically been in the past. We're just trying to figure it out."
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit