Welcome to the first week of the Class 4A baseball postseason.
It’s where 1 troublesome inning, a bad pitch, fielding miscue, poor at-bat, baserunning gaffe, or missed sign can lead to a quick and painful end.
But it also will be a celebration of sorts for the fortunate teams that win and advance to the next game.
A pair of local teams — Batavia and St. Charles East — spent part of last week celebrating their co-Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship.
Batavia (26-6) staged a late rally to force extra innings before edging Streamwood last Thursday to claim at least a share of the conference crown.
“Come from behind, extra innings and everything — we needed a tight game like that,” said Bulldogs coach Matt Holm. “We needed to play in a playoff-like atmosphere.”
Led by Laren Eustace, Billy Zwick, Micah Coffey, Luke Horton and Austin Shanahan, the Bulldogs were one of the more pleasant surprises in the UEC River this spring.
Now they’re looking for more.
“We’re ready to go,” said Holm. “It has been a tremendous season in terms of wins and losses and we’ll celebrate all that stuff but it’s also time to start knuckling down.
“You set your goals (at the beginning of the year) and we said we were going to play for a banner. Once we got that we’re going to play for another banner. Those are milestones and we’re setting our eyes on the next one.”
Batavia earned the second seed in the St. Charles East sectional and will likely send ace Shanahan to the mound Wednesday in the Bartlett regional semifinals.
How deep is the 20-team sectional field?
A total of 14 teams have captured at least 1 regional title in the last 5 years.
Four schools — Batavia (2009), Wheaton North (2010), Schaumburg (2012), and Streamwood (2011) — have won sectional championships over the past 4 seasons.
Schaumburg, which knocked off St. Charles East in last year’s sectional semifinals, is the 15th seed this time around.
“We’ve got to win and keep moving (on),” said St. Charles East coach Len Asquini, whose fourth-seeded Saints open with 13th-seeded Glenbard East or 20th-seeded Conant on Wednesday in the Geneva regional.
“Our draw is not easy,” said Asquini, who guided the Saints to a state championship in 1999. “Glenbard East is a much better team than their record shows. And a guy from Palatine said that Conant is the most talented team in their conference next to Barrington.”
Is there such a thing as carrying momentum from the regular season into the postseason?
“I think so in terms of attitude,” said Holm. “I think momentum helped us win Thursday because we expected to.”
Batavia has an electrifying leadoff man in Eustace and one of the area’s best clutch hitters in Coffey.
Both Batavia and St. Charles East will be leaving strong pitchers in the bullpen due to the depth of their staffs.
Senior right-handers Luke Horton (8-0) and Troy Dykhuis (5-2) will likely now work out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs and Saints, respectively.
“Luke was great in relief for us all last year,” said Holm, “and we really feel good about Laren (Eustace), (Jake) Piechota and (Colby) Green, too.”
Flame-throwing right-hander Matt Starai (8-1) and experienced senior southpaw Nick Huskisson are the Saints’ likely postseason starting hurlers.
“Troy will be a bullpen guy,” said Asquini. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to give us a different look if we need to call on him.”
Despite their 21-11 record, the Saints have been a bit offensively challenged at times throughout the season.
“Hit or miss — we’ve been a miss,” said Asquini, who moved varsity veteran Nicholas Erickson from the third spot to the leadoff position just last week.
“We’re stretching for anything,” added Asquini. “Nick wasn’t getting it done at the three-spot so we’re going to make a change.
“Last year at this point he was chasing a school record for doubles with 18 — the record is 21 set by his brother (Johnathan).”
Like many coaches, Asquini is looking for more offensive contributions from his starting nine.
It all begins with an improved plate approach.
“We’ve worked hard to make them change bad approaches,” said Asquini. “All of the cage work, all the batting practice work — and then they go back to their old habits that are unsuccessful.
“You talk about playoff baseball — maybe that’s your one opportunity during the game to attack and score a couple runs to make it 2-0.”
The Saints have also been searching for more production from the 2-hole where senior third baseman Sean Dunne was inserted during last week’s 3-game series with Larkin.
After a so-so day at the plate last Tuesday, Dunne smacked a seventh-inning grand slam to provide some insurance during last Wednesday’s win over the Royals.
Don’t sleep on sixth-seeded Geneva, either.
Despite being without highly touted ace Andy Honiotes (elbow injury) much of the season, the Vikings (19-15) are just 1 win away from recording their seventh consecutive 20-win campaign under the direction of Matt Hahn.
Jordan Touro and Tony Landi have proven to be more than capable of providing stability on the mound for the Vikings, who open regional play at home Thursday against 12th-seeded Glenbard West.
However, the Hilltoppers have a history of knocking off higher seeded opponents. Two years ago, they handed St. Charles North an extra-inning defeat in the regional semifinals before going on to eliminate St. Charles East in the sectional semis.
Geneva also features one of the youngest varsity players in the state in talented freshman shortstop Nick Derr, who bats leadoff for the Vikings.
Tenth-seeded St. Charles North (16-17), which opens regional action Thursday against No. 7 Bartlett, would like to make amends for a difficult regular season.
Coach Todd Genke’s squad has a stockpile of young talent, led by sophomore first baseman/pitcher Cory Wright, junior outfielders Nick Drawant and Jack Dennis, and junior shortstop/pitcher Frankie Farry.
“It has been a trying season but it’s not over yet,” said Genke. “Maybe our regular season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to but we’ve still got a chance to get hot at the right time and win a regional and who knows from there.”
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.comCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.